The Mac App Store and You

by Planck on January 20, 2011

The new Mac App Store debuted a few weeks ago as Apple’s new centralized location for finding, purchasing, and installing Macintosh applications. (Don’t forget, we have a centralized list of useful Mac apps on the AstroBetter wiki.) It is modeled on the very successful iOS App Store, and works as its own, new, application that is part of the Snow Leopard 10.6.6 system update that rolled out on January 6. Apple reported they had 1 million downloads the first day.

For the tech savviest of Astrobetter readers, there isn’t much new on the App Store. Still, adding new applications to a Mac stands in stark contrast to the simplicity of installing apps on an iPhone or other iOS device. Indeed, the options for distributing Mac applications are diverse and sometimes confusing (Distributing as a disk images is particularly confusing. An “image” of a disk as a file is very abstract for a novice user.)

The App Store, however, couldn’t be simpler as far as installing a program, you just click a button and moments later, there it is in /Applications. Nice and easy. It handles updates as well, all in one place. Another upside for all of us is that all of Apple’s own iWork and iLife apps can now be bought separately for $15 or $20 a piece. Keynote for a mere $20! You can all stop using Powerpoint now. Also, Apple’s pro Aperture photo management software is going for a mere $79 now as a download, which is a downright steal. It was $199 as a boxed purchase.

So, while the App Store makes it easier to install apps, it also promises to make it easier to find apps. TextWrangler, for example, is one of the top downloads, and if the app store means more people will use it, that’s great. TextWrangler is actually a good example of the good and bad of the store. For while it’s now easier than ever to install, Bare Bones had to make some changes to get the app into the store. Specifically, the option to install the command line tools, and the ability to authorize the app and edit root-owned files has been removed. Power users may want to continue to download it directly from Bare Bones.

A popular category in the App store has been game titles that up until now had only been on iOS. Presumably, the makers have found it easy to release these on the Mac with the commonalities between iOS and MacOS X.  Will we see any of the astronomical planetarium apps for the iPad/iPhone (of which there are many) make it back to the Mac? So far the only app that seems to fit this description is Solar Walk, which is an iPad/Phone app (well reviewed) that is now in the  Mac App Store as well and still only $2.99.

Also, some developers are choosing to go exclusively with the Mac App Store, shelving their own stores and registration code schemes. Among these are Pixelmelator, and TapeDeck. RealMacSoftware plans to migrate to App Store exclusive sale channel. Going App Store exclusive simplifies support, registration, and bumps the sales figures in the App Store (as opposed to some sales being offline via the developer’s own store.)

Finally, is there any downside to the app store? There is some quiet speculation that Apple could wall off apps on the Mac the same way they have on the iPhone – that is to say that the App Store would somehow become the only way to install programs. There is so far no indication this will happen. Complicated programs and UNIX-y packages like IRAF or Macports could never work in the app store. Similarly, drivers and other things will have to be installed in their own way. So for many developers, it’ll bring a new way for people to discover programs, and for many Mac users, it’ll help us find apps we may have overlooked.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Marshall January 20, 2011 at 4:58 pm

I haven’t explored this at all yet, but presumably there is some process for distributing free applications via the App Store? Not that most astronomy software is that hard to install, but it would be pretty slick to be able to install DS9 or Aladin etc. via the App Store and then get automatic version updates and so forth.

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2 Jeff Widderich January 26, 2011 at 10:16 am

We have an app called “You” on the Mac app store so I thought this article was about our app. Very strange that your title would coincide with our release

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3 Thomas February 25, 2011 at 9:38 am

@Marshall : I wanted to distribute Aladin through the App Store, but it seems it won’t be feasible because :
1. Java is now considered as a deprecated technology by Apple
2. GPL licence does not seem to be compatible with App Store terms and conditions

:-(

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