For much of the past six years I’ve authored Mac360’s Friday Freebies. It was me being the resident Value Vixen™ on a never ending quest for high value apps for Mac users.
For most of those years I toiled a lonely journey through hundreds of Mac apps without a price tag. The Mac’s market share languished. Mac software developers labored to provide great apps at low or no price. Those days are gone.
The Mac Renaissance Of Prosperity
In recent years we’ve seen the Mac become popular again, the darling of the elite, now fully middle class, thanks to the iPod and iPhone halo effect. Macs are chic to the masses.
The masses make up millions of paying customers.
Mac software developers are not lost on today’s obvious trends. Mac sales are at record levels despite worldwide economic woes.
As we churn through the early stages of the 21st century it has become increasingly more difficult to find free Mac software. Valuable Mac apps abound, though recent trends in pricing indicate that developers are proud of their efforts and newfound market—paying customers who switched from Windows PCs.
The Many Faces Of Mac Apps
For the value minded Mac user, there are a handful of ways to get value apps. Freeware. It’s what you think it is. Mac apps that are free. No strings attached, and no guarantees that the app will continue to work after Apple’s next Mac update.
Donationware is like freeware except for the plea to donate something, anything, if you like the software and use it. Shareware is different, and has changed colors through the years.
Shareware used to mean Donationware. Try it. If you like it, buy it, but otherwise it was usually fully functional. That was then and this is now. Shareware today isn’t so much sharing as it is trialware. Try it. If you like it, buy it, but otherwise it may be crippled a bit or stop functioning after a trial period.
Otherwise, let me lump all Mac apps into two categories—those that don’t have a price tag (Donationware or otherwise), and those that do (Shareware, Commercial apps, all with a price tag).
It’s the free Mac software that may seem to be a dying breed. Free Mac apps are not hidden—merely more difficult to find among a growing list of commercial apps. Or, rather, it’s a breed that is in the process of metamorphosing into something different than what we’re used to using on our Macs. There’s little question that free Mac software makes up an increasingly smaller share of total Mac software as app developers follow the money trail.
Apple’s App Store Money Trail
With the iPhone and the iTunes App Store, Apple has managed to do something no one else has been able to do—fully commercialize free apps. How so?
Free apps for the iPhone, iPod touch, and the iPad are stepping stone apps—free apps with full but limited usage designed to entice users to purchase the big brother version through the easy App Store purchase system.
Apps also have the capability to run advertising to help support the free app model. Advertising? Yes. Search and context sensitive advertising is a huge deal on the internet, for Mac and Windows PCs. On mobile platforms, not so much because users prefer apps to constant trips to Google to find relevant information.
Apple’s upcoming iAd system in iPhone OS 4 will enhance that in-app advertising capability even more with full-on rich media capability—iAds will show up in apps, utilities, and games later this year. Big money is at stake, but free apps will live—on mobile devices.
What Of Free Apps For The Mac?
It’s unlikely that free apps for Mac users will ever disappear completely, though free makes up an increasingly smaller percent of all apps. All of us at Mac360 are convinced that Apple, at some point in the future, will move the same iAd advertising system into apps for the Mac.
How that will take place probably hasn’t been decided by Apple.
We speculate a metamorphosis will take place over a number of years with the Mac and future versions of iPhone OS.
In other words, your Mac may begin a morphing process and become more like an iPad with a built-in keyboard and trackpad, but running more capable, more powerful apps from the iTunes App Store—for Macs. That means free apps may live, but come with advertising built-in to help developers offset the cost of building and distributing a free app for Macs.
Regardless of what runs on future Macs, questions remain. Like the iPhone and iPad, would you use free Mac apps that have built-in advertising? Would you buy Mac apps from a Mac version of the iTunes App Store? Are Mac apps that are supported by built-in advertising worthy of your consideration?