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Apps – coming to a computer near you

By October 26, 2010Opinion

Last week, Apple gave the public a sneak peek at their latest version of OSX, which will include an App Store for the Mac.

The Mac App Store will incorporate one-click installs and automatic upgrades. You can browse apps by category, search for something specific, read user reviews and then make a purchase. Apple are trying to replicate their phenomenal success with the mobile app store where there have been over 7 billion downloads to date. The store has been a game changer and its impact on the industry and consumers has been well documented. Jobs announced that the same basic guidelines will apply to the new Mac App Store. The new store will also follow the 70 / 30 revenue sharing model with developers.

Apple is taking the model that launched the mobile market and taking it to its 50 million Mac users. This is a significant announcement and it has the potential to change the software industry. It will impact pricing models, distribution costs, licensing and also potentially add a social element to purchasing decisions. How we buy software has been changing constantly over the last 10 years and this latest announcement is the next logical step in that progression.

Buying an app (or “software” as it was known in the pre-Apple days) was a physical experience. You went to a store and picked out the software you wanted. It was recorded on physical media like floppy disks, CDs and DVDs. This was the distribution model that had always existed and the only one that could work. Then the Internet happened. Now you could find software and simply download it. In the initial days, you needed to know exactly where to look to find something to download. With better search engines it became easier to find software but it still required the user to be skilled enough to find something and invest time in learning how to use it. Sites like Download.com turned up eventually and everything was categorised and easier to find. But the actual installation process has not changed much. You still have to deal with *.exe/dmg files, install wizards and license keys. The process of finding and installing updates is not consistent and most users never bother with it, potentially exposing them to security risks. An App Store built into the operating system has the potential to change this.

Apple is the not the only company to develop a  feature like this, the latest version of Ubuntu has a Software Centre which is very similar to the proposed Mac App Store. Microsoft is also planning something similar – Although it hasn’t been officially announced, internal documents discussing a “Microsoft Store” in the next version of Windows were leaked a couple of months ago. Google is also has the Chrome Web Store which should be launched very soon. This is slightly different compared to the others and is expected to be released before the Chrome OS is out.

You can view the leaked Microsoft documents here

I think Apple will have the most success with this model initially, mainly because of the existing marketplace. Consumers are already used to purchasing their apps from the store for their portable devices and will readily adopt to purchasing for their Macs too. It is still too early to comment on the Windows Store because not much is known about it. But based on those leaked documents, it appears that there is a huge focus on usability and also a lot of social integration. Google’s web store is also expected to resemble the Android market and will initially only be available on the Chrome browser or on the Chrome OS. There are plans to extend this to other browsers but nothing has been announced as yet. Google is also expected to follow the 70 / 30 revenue sharing model.

These are exciting developments and represent a huge shift. Is this going to be a boon for independent and small companies developing softwares?

What will the consumer adoption be like? Can you convince users to pay for software when you can download it for free (albeit illegally)?

What do you think? Is this something that you think improves usability or places restrictions on your choice?