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I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

The Mac App Store isn’t for today’s Mac developers

Apple’s recently announced App Store for the Mac is a Really Big Deal™, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment. But a lot of existing Mac developers have pointed out major issues or unknowns that need to be addressed:

Since almost all of these are likely to be inconvenient at best (and often dealbreakers) for current Mac developers, it’s easy to miss the likely intention and likely effects of this.

The likely intention

I’m guessing this is what Apple has in mind. If not, this is at least what I think is likely to happen:

Actually, the scale’s off.

This is the much more likely outcome:

…for a few reasons.

Apps as entertainment

In high school, my friends and I went to the movie theater almost every weekend, usually not even knowing what was playing, and decided how to spend our $5-10 when we got there. We knew it would buy us a few hours of entertainment, and we knew that most of the movies would be mediocre, a few would be horrible, and a few would be great. The predictability and low cost of these outings gave us a reliable way to be entertained on a regular basis.

One of the reasons the iOS App Store is so successful is that app-buying has become a form of casual, routine entertainment for iPhone and iPad owners. We gladly go and browse the App Store even when we don’t “need” anything at the moment, with the intention of going and spending a few bucks on whatever’s new that looks good.

This requires a few conditions to be ideal, all of which are true on the iOS App Store:

Today, on the Mac, almost none of these are true. And if the Mac App Store is only populated by a subset of today’s Mac software, a few key points (such as “Inexpensive”) still won’t be true. This is why I believe that the Mac App Store will be dominated by (and become known for) apps that don’t exist on the Mac today.

Appeal to iOS developers

Much of what made the App Store so compelling to developers will begin to apply to Mac software with the Mac App Store:

So I expect a lot of iOS developers to start making Mac apps, especially individuals and very small teams.

And these are the average selling prices I expect for non-free software:

In other words, a lot like iPad-app pricing, but shifted slightly higher. And even considering the lower prices than current Mac software, and Apple’s 30% cut, the value in exposure will overcome those for most good apps, and developers will be able to make a lot of money.

What about today’s Mac developers?

They’ll be fine.

Today’s market for Mac software isn’t going anywhere. People will continue to find (or not find) traditional apps in the traditional ways, and will continue to buy (or not buy) them in retail stores and from the vendors’ websites at about the same rates. In fact, as the Mac’s marketshare grows, this market will continue to grow with it.

But a huge new market is about to open next door. And yes, it’ll probably be dominated by Angry Birds and other inexpensive, often trivial apps. When this happens, a lot of traditional Mac developers are going to look down on it. But those with a bit of free time to develop their own inexpensive, often trivial apps might have a different viewpoint entirely when they see their sales numbers.

As both a Mac user and an iOS developer, I’m incredibly excited for the potential of this market.

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