Mac OS X 10.6.6 and the brand new Mac App Store were released just days ago, as promised, even showing up a few hours before the official 9 AM PST start time. I found myself, like many other Mac fanatics, breaking open the virtual shrink-wrap on the new store and having a look around.
Making it Easy
The Mac App Store is likely to have its biggest impact on new and, dare I say less geeky, Mac users. A couple of weeks from now, when all the new Macs that people will buy are pre-loaded with 10.6.6, finding and purchasing third-party applications is going to be a lot easier. The very fact that the Mac App Store is so familiar — and installed right there on the Dock — means that many more people will be able to be connected with high-quality, very useful applications that they would never previously have known about.
While there are concerns of another ‘race to the bottom’ with regards to pricing, it seems more than credible that developers will also do very well out of the Mac App Store, just because they will be reaching more eyes than before and will shift more copies of their code.
So, it’s great for new Mac users, it’s great for developers. The App Store is a great success on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, but is it really the right fit for the Mac?
The Future of the ‘Other’ Way
It’s certainly the case that right now, if you don’t want to use the Mac App Store, you don’t have to at all. You are still more than welcome to install software from any other source just as before.
What concerns me the most is the future of the ‘other’ way to install applications. I don’t think that support for alternative software sources would ever be cut off without warning, but I am fearful that new operating system features, for example, will only available to applications that are distributed through the App Store. That would result in a slow, gradual descent into obsolescence for any alternative distribution to the App Store. Or, at very least, it would make life much more difficult for those developers and users who want to play outside the walled garden.
It’s particularly concerning because while the iPhone has always been a locked-down platform by nature of being a cell phone, and the iPad just an extension of that idea, we have always had complete control over our Macintosh computers — since 1984 (if we’ve been in the game that long). Nobody is questioning that we still retain that freedom today, but what might the future of the Mac spell?
It’s a question we can’t answer yet, but it is something to keep in mind.
I don’t think the Mac App Store is a bad thing. I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. But I do think that as Mac users, we should be and we should continue to be under no obligation to use it. A general purpose desktop computer is a very different thing to an iOS appliance — and I think it should always be under the end user’s control.
In short — the App Store is a direction in which a lot of things will be going. I just hope it isn’t the only direction we’re allowed to go.