Apple Mac App Store Launch

Today Apple released their long awaited Mac App Store, which is available for download via Software Update. The Mac App Store is basically like the iOS App Store for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, but tailored specifically for Mac Apps (apps that run on Mac OS X). There are over a thousand paid and free apps already available on launch day, featuring one-click download and install, and purchased apps will run on all your personal Macs. Here is Apple’s official press release: http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2011/01/06macappstore.html

It was originally thought that the store would ship with Mac OS X Lion (which is slated for release in late 2011), but Apple announced last October at their “Back to the Mac” event that the store will in fact run on the current version of Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6). However, you do need to run Software Update to download a minor OS update (v10.6.6) which installs the “App Store” app onto your machine and places it in your dock.

The Mac App Store is definitely all about app discovery.  Find new and exciting apps by browsing the top charts, featured apps, category lists, or searching by keywords. When you find an interesting app, you can check out screenshots, user reviews and a full description before choosing to buy. The developer is allowed to customize their app “page” in the store, with their own color scheme and background image.

Once you click the buy button, the app is downloaded and installed to your Mac in the “Applications” folder, and appears in your Dock. It is also “linked” to your iTunes account, so you can download the same app on all your other Macs without having to re-buy it. There are of course many free apps in the store as well.

Apps? But I already have apps!

Some are asking why a Mac App Store is needed. The Mac already has “apps”, and has for 26 years. Why do we need a locked down, walled garden app store to “infect” our otherwise open OS? Well, there are several reasons. For one thing, these apps go through an approval process similar to iOS apps, so you know you’re getting a good quality product, tested by Apple. Secondly, these apps install and uninstall themselves cleanly using a centralized process. Meaning, the apps won’t leave hidden files all over your machine when you delete them, and installation is easy and takes only one-click. Also, they’ll auto-update themselves using a centralized process controlled by Apple. And finally, since app purchases are linked to your Apple ID (iTunes Account), if you buy apps on one Mac, you can easily re-download and re-install them on another.

Downsides & Bugs

As cool as the Mac App Store is, there are a couple of downsides. First of all, Apple doesn’t allow developers to post demos or free trials of apps. You must actually purchase an app to try it. This is rather unfortunate, as I have personally discovered countless apps by trying the free demo or trial version first, realizing it was cool, then buying the full app. I might not have bothered if I was forced to buy before trying. Secondly, apps you have already purchased beforehand (such as iLife apps) will not be updated by the App Store. You have to uninstall and re-purchase the apps to get the full App Store benefits such as updates.

We also found a few bugs with the store, which are probably just launch day traffic issues. Several app pages load blank, the first screenshot doesn’t load until you click on others (and if there is only one screenshot, it never loads), and we received errors purchasing several apps. Trying again usually solved the problem. These issues will likely be fixed as traffic subsides, and/or Apple releases an update to the store.

Our App Picks

Here are a few app picks we liked on launch day:

  • Twitter (free, basically “Tweetie 2″ for Mac)
  • The Incident ($2.99, fun retro-style action game which works very well with a keyboard)
  • TextWrangler (free, excellent text editor by the makers of BBEdit, great for editing HTML)
  • MenuPop (free, makes the menu bar available inside any window on any screen via a hot key)
  • And Yet It Moves ($9.99, adventure game with unique art style and lots of fun)

Create Your Own Mac Apps

Apple offers a new Mac App Store Developer Program, similar to iOS, which costs $99 / year and allows you to publish your own free or paid commercial apps. You create apps using Apple’s Xcode development system, and their Cocoa programming language. However, if you prefer web development, I predict that services such as Appcelerator Titanium will soon support creating HTML5 / JavaScript apps for the Mac App Store. As with iOS development, you get 70% of the revenue from your app’s sales, and Apple keeps 30%.

Summary

App stores really are the next big thing, for both mobile and desktop platforms, and Apple knows how to do them right. The Mac App Store is nearly perfect and a welcome addition to OS X.

Rating: 9.5 / 10

Written by

Joseph Huckaby

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