Wait. Can’t we buy Mac apps anywhere online? Yes, more or less (caveat emptor; buyer beware). And isn’t there enough choice in the iOS App Store in iTunes? I mean, there’s more than 2-million apps waiting to try and buy. Isn’t that enough? No. Here’s why.
Unlike presidential campaigns, having a real choice matters. While our current political system in the good old U.S. of A. is wrought with problems that only money seems to solve, app stores for Apple’s products all belong to, well… Apple. What’s wrong with that picture?
Apple is the Godfather of application distribution for Mac, iPhone, iPad, Watch, and Apple TV. For the most part, that Big Brother system works well enough, and it’s hard to argue that there’s insufficient competition in the various stores, despite a few lawsuits over Apple’s so-called app store monopoly.
In the past decade or two the Mac’s user base has quadrupled in size, while iOS customers have reached more than 1-billion less than 10 years, and the vast majority of the latter use official, certified applications from Apple’s own App Store, while the Mac’s customers are free to scout the universe for any app that can be installed, regardless of source or quality; but the only official, curated, certified online location for apps is the Mac App Store.
We need more app stores.
First, the Mac, because that’s where there’s an opening and opportunity for Mac app developers to band together to offer a degree of competition for the official Mac App Store. This type of organization is no mean feat, of course, but by keeping app developer members to a specific set of basic requirements, it could present a could alternative to Apple’s curated by highly restricted app store.
Let me offer a few as an example.
Certified – Developers need to be certified as an app developer so customers don’t have to jump through hoops to install a third party application (which happens now). Curation, even when limited, matters.
Licensing – Every app sold in the alternative app store should have a license, but how about just a few tiers for usage, time frame, and upgrades instead of every app developer using an entirely different licensing scheme. This should also include a built-in serial number attached to a specific Mac user or app store account (my favorite).
Pricing – Developers should be able to price the application appropriately but change pricing as needed for specific packages and promotions.
Packages – The app store, with approval from specific developers, should be able to bundle apps into a package for a special rate, but for a limited time period.
Renewals & Upgrades – This feature might ease some of the subscription model pain by allowing app developers to make an app available for a one year or two year period, with a renewal or upgrade rate after that.
Subscriptions – I’m in favor of all applications having the same options available (though developers can choose which to use, as well as choose the prices for each level) and that includes a subscription rate; monthly or annually.
Downloads – Personally, I think it’s better that all apps and upgrades come from the same source for downloads, though I prefer an installation process that might be less automatic than Apple provides.
The Store – For now, app download sites and app developer sites are the norm, but a single point of app visibility– an alternate store online– would be a big plus. Technical issues abound, of course, and it may be that developers work together to create a functional outline of a working store that can list, search, and promote various applications and categories, before opening the store to a wider range of developers. Make it work first, then scale.
There are many more considerations, of course, but this is a basic start to create an alternative means to display, promote, and distribute Mac applications; especially those apps which cannot or should not adhere to the inherent restrictions in the official Mac App Store.
Second, the iPhone and iPad because Apple owns the whole ball of wax here, and it makes sense that the unofficial alternative Mac app store show it can work before venturing into an iOS version. Also, there are a number of issues regarding an alternative iOS store, including the legality and technical problems that arise now with jailbreaking an iPhone or iPad, though there might be successful legal challenges to Apple to open up the iOS app distribution process.
This option is the long shot, and it could be completely dependent upon the success of the alternative Mac app store, yet could work along the lines of the modestly successful Cydia model which would require a specific installation process to allow non-Apple approved applications on iOS devices. To be clear, this is a long shot and would require some self-policing from the app developer community. Curation rules, folks.
Personally, I would like to see a little competition for the Mac App Store and the iOS App Store. Apple has the resources and technical chops to make it work, work well, and scale, despite obvious and ongoing problems (search is abysmal).
Maybe Google would like to lend a hand.