Apple and the App Store – Duck!!

16 12 2010

Bottom of New Delhi statueThe more observant readers of the blog will notice that I’ve been absent for a while from posting on the blog. I’ve been travelling during much of that time — in particular a great month-long trip to India. While there I learned a tremendous amount about the Indian economy and its media industry (while also eating a wonderful amount of wonderful food, but that’s another story) and I will be writing about it relatively soon.

But I also had a chance to mull over the Apple announcement from late October. You may remember that announcement for its announcement of the Air, and the hints about the new Mac OS – Lion. They also announced an App Store for Mac applications — to great whoops of joy among Mac pundits. I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’m not thrilled — I’m more scared than anything. And I’m scared for the media creation community.

First, if you aren’t already familiar with the store, head on over to its holding page on the Apple site, where you’ll get a very short sales pitch for why the store is so great. The site itself is due January 6, 2011 and Apple CEO Steve Jobs was quoted in a MacNN story telling us why the store is so great.

“The App Store revolutionized mobile apps,” reads a prepared statement from CEO Steve Jobs. “We hope to do the same for PC apps with the Mac App Store by making finding and buying PC apps easy and fun. We can’t wait to get started on January 6.”

But the devil is always in the details or, in this case, in the reality, and I think we should all be worried.

First off, I’m going to remind everyone that one of the major complaints about the iPhone/iPod (iOS)  App Store as been its approval process. Some developers have withdrawn their apps from the store because of the capricious nature of that process. And while it is true that Apple won’t (for now) require that all apps for the Mac be downloaded through their store, it will most probably become the de facto standard for 90% of all users.

Apple will be taking 30% of all revenues, which is way better for developers than what a brick and mortar retail store would take, but totally blows compared to the percentage that an online store would take. Apple will provide the entire store infrastructure — including billing and download, which is way better for smaller developers than building their own store, but no big deal compared to a scheme like Kagi or PayPal. Apple won’t do anything for marketing except (if the iOS store is any indication) some staff recommendations. That is no different than what software developers deal with today, and is way better if you’re one of the apps selected as a Staff Pick. But it totally blows if you’ve got a good competing product to that Staff Pick. Not much different than competing for reviews right now, except that these reviews/picks will appear on a retail store.

Paramount Consent Decree anyone?

So, in many cases, you gets some and you lose some.

The biggest argument for this store that I’ve heard made is that it will exactly serve the needs of 90-95% of the average Mom and Pop Mac purchasers, who don’t want to type “Family Tree” into their Google or Amazon search bars, and wait for the delivery of the disk by their friendly UPS guy. Now they can type it into the MacOS App Store search bar and get the download immediately. And that’s completely true. For 90% of the total market, this store will probably serve all of their needs.

But nearly every media maker that I know doesn’t fit in that 90-95%. We live in the outlying 5-10%.

As an example, we know that Apple makes Final Cut Suite. We also know that there at least two competing NLEs — Avid’s Media Composer and Adobe’s Premier Pro — that compete directly with Apple’s software. There’s also the new Lightworks Open Source beta (not available for the Mac right now, but “someday”) and a few other NLEs. I’d be fascinated to see if Apple approves any one of those competitors for inclusion in the store. And, if so, how often they would get Staff Pick recommendations.

The fact that Adobe and Avid could and would continue to sell their products on their own sites and elsewhere is great and all, but that has increasingly less power, the stronger the MacOS App Store’s pull on the overall market becomes. I can see the day when it will be well nigh impossible to start a new product without its inclusion in the Apple App Store and, once again, we (as users) become captive to the Apple selection process.

============= ADDED 12-16-2010 ===================

Philip Hodgetts points out in his comment below that Apple’s rules for the store prohibit software that uses installers to be sold in the OS Store. This rules out Final Cut, Media Composer and a slew of other complex applications.

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Apple, on its own site, touts the ability to download updates.

Developers are always improving their apps. That’s why the Mac App Store keeps track of your apps and tells you when updates are available. Update one app at a time or all of them at once, and you’ll always have the latest versions.

All well and good and I’d be thrilled at this feature were it not for two huge points. First, nearly every application that I own (with the shocking exception of Avid’s Media Composer) will, if I ask it to, automatically check for updates and let me update automatically. And, second, I’ve heard enough stories about iOS app updates being delayed for weeks as they go through the Apple approval process. Personally, I’d rather update on the developers’ and my own schedules, not on a store’s — even if that store is operated by may favorite computer manufacturer.

Finally, for everyone who has ever been thankful for a 30 day trial period, let me tell you that on the new MacOS Store — you won’t have one. Apple is not allowing downloading of apps with trial periods. You download it, you pay for it. Simple policy for them, not so much for us. I often download plug-ins or conversion tools for trials so I can decide whether to buy them or not. I love experimenting with them, but not too many of my clients want to see “SAMPLE” or “TRIAL VERSION” splashed across their screens. So, if I use them, I pay for them. If I don’t find them useful, I delete them. No harm, no foul, no fowl. On the new app store — we get harm and foul. I cry “chicken!”

Those of us who live in the crazy 5-10% outlier group will have to continue to do what we’ve always been doing — use friends, Twitter, user groups, blog posts and reviews — to find software that helps me to do my job better. Luckily, that won’t go away — except in the case of marginal software companies who can’t afford to part with 30% of their revenue, as well as keep a functioning web site up for support and marketing. This strikes me as a no-win situation for small developers and I’d be interested to hear what someone like Philip Hodgetts thinks. Philip, along with his partner Greg Clarke, publishes some great tools for Final Cut Pro over at their company Intelligent Assistance, has his own online store to sell their many apps. I’d also be interested in what some slightly larger companies think — not larger to the degree of  Adobe, who can pretty well afford their own store, but places like GenArts or Boris, both of whom make great plug-ins.

Small companies, like Apple used to be, need more open markets. I question whether this new Apple OS Store, will create anything resembling an open marketplace. If not, small companies are going to start hurting even more than they do now. And while Mom and Pop won’t notice, those of us who work creating content at increasingly lower and lower margins are going to start suffering.


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4 responses to “Apple and the App Store – Duck!!”

16 12 2010
Philip Hodgetts (18:58:51) :

Final Cut Studio, Media Composer et al cannot be sold through the app store because they require installers.

As a small developer in the outlying 5-10% our current watching brief on the app store runs into these issues:
No demo – demo or trial versions help us sell more and identify needs;
No customer access – developers never know who they’ve sold to and we value that close contact with our customers;
Updates must go through the App store approval process – a week to two weeks turn around for any update, when we often update 2-3 times a week and generally respond to bug reports within 24 hours (with a new version)
Each sale of one license equals five seats for install – it appears the same licensing as for iTunes content sales will apply, so the downloaded app can be installed on up to five seats for the one purchase.

And yes, the push to constantly lower prices will mean that ultimately stuff doesn’t get made because it can’t get a return for professional programmers.

Philip Hodgetts
President, Intelligent Assistance / AssistedEditingcom

16 12 2010
Norman (19:20:54) :

Philip,

Thanks for the clarification on the installers. Most large programs of any degree of complexity use installers, don’t they? Doesn’t this rule out a lot of apps, or can programs be relatively easily rewritten to install directly?

Your other points confirm exactly what I’ve thought. There are way too many downsides to this mega-Apple approach to make this valuable.

Can a developer sell both in the store and outside of it?

16 12 2010
Robert salsbury (20:06:00) :

Some interesting thoughts on this here too:

http://www.omnigroup.com/blog/entry/ipad_or_bust_mac_app_store_or_bust_too/

Seems like Omni at least plan on continuing to have their own site for trial versions as well.

16 12 2010
Norman (22:40:39) :

Omni is a great developer for the Mac. It doesn’t surprise me that they’re going to straddle the fence and have two sites. I’ll be interested to find out from them how their sales break down between the two sites (Apple’s and their own) after a year. I’d also be interested to know how support works out for them.

Thanks for sending the link along.

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