Competition, Freedom and the Mac App Store
Whenever Apple releases something, there’s a column of comment-thread critics pointing out that Apple didn’t invent the technologies behind the new product. Invention is rarely part of the value proposition that Apple makes in its products, preferring to pull together ideas in novel and refined ways.
While they clearly built on what was learned in building the iOS store, Apple was not the first to have an app store for their own platform. Well over a year ago, Bodega had launched just that. While innovative, their concept never really caught on and I didn’t hear much about Bodega after that.
At a glance the Mac App Store might seem a crushing blow to a smaller incumbent, but I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, the Mac App Store may be a real gift to the fledgling Bodega. The key reason is that the Mac App Store will do the heavy lifting of getting the concept of an App Store for the Mac into the minds of its customers. With the concept explained and exemplified, the marketing job that Bodega faces is much easier because it allows them to then focus on differentiation.
And they can differentiate. Bodega, not being bound by Apple’s review policies, can be the place to find the apps that Apple won’t sell in its store, without the piracy overtones that came with the Cydia store for jailbroken iOS devices.
Bodega already distinguishes itself with a generous 93/7% revenue split (the greater share goes to the app maker, just to be clear). They also allow app vendors to choose their own licensing terms and there’s no charge for entering their store nor any exclusivity requirements.
Years ago, Starbucks stores started to pop up like mushrooms in the forest, and many including myself wondered if their retail coverage strategy spelled the end of the mom and pop coffee shops. What happened instead was that Starbucks raised the bar for what was passable coffee in urban centres, creating a market for a higher quality café experience. Rather than wipe out independents, they had opened up the space for independents to flourish by differentiating with even better coffee and a non-corporate, more localized experience.
The same can happen with app stores for the Mac OS and other platforms. Bodega and the like will still need to do a lot of work, but the job of explaining what an app store is to developers and customers has been taken off their plate.
Apple in the Middle? Apple IS the Middle!
Some of the complaints about the Mac App Store have been that it’s putting Apple in between independent vendors and customers. I really have to call this out as misunderstanding, since Apple makes the hardware and the operating system these vendors develop on.
With that role, Apple defines the playing field and implicitly says what kinds of apps are possible and not possible. The Mac App Store doesn’t say what software you can install on your Mac, but Apple does because they make the Mac. If you don’t want someone else in between you and the software you can use, you’ll need to start making your own platform.
The complaints also ignore the consistent licensing that apps bought in the store (each app can be installed on up to five machines), a very smooth payment gateway and even smoother installation (I bought and installed an app called Contacts Cleaner last night in under 10 seconds).
Panic, an acclaimed independent vendor of Mac apps, has a great blog post about their take on the Mac App Store. One part in particular jumped out for me:
…through years of tech support, we know that installing and updating apps is a massive point of confusion for a surprising amount of users, and the Mac App Store is a tremendous step in making that process more like a pillow of cake and less like a bag of hurt.
That surprised me because I always thought installing apps on a Mac was about as easy as it could be. Not so.
Apple can deliver a lot of value for the 30% cut they take on each App Store sale, and developers can sell outside the store as they like. App users have their lives made easier in buying, installing and updating software. It’s hard to see how this is the threat to freedom that critics warn against, especially when the kind of freedom they fear losing was never really there in the first place.