Will there be a Mac App Store, similar to the iPhone App Store that cemented Apple’s dominance of the mobile applications space?
According to an email response from Steve Jobs, the answer might be “nope”. But that’s one heck of an opportunity to throw away.
Steve Jobs’ Denial
After rumors last week that Apple might launch an app store for Macs and prevent any programs running on them without authorization, Mac developer Fernando Valente emailed Jobs at his now well-known “email@example.com” address.
Jobs is known to occasionally answer mails sent here, and the mail headers look real, so we’ll assume the thread below from MacStories is legitimate:
Fernando: “Hey Steve,
There’s a rumor saying there will be a Mac App Store and no software without authorization from Apple will run on Mac OS X. Is that true?”
Steve Jobs: “Nope”.
Notice that Jobs, in his characteristically curt fashion, could be denying only part of the question here: Perhaps Apple does intend to launch a Mac App Store, but won’t force every Mac app to go through Apple’s approvals process.
If they don’t launch a store, a huge opportunity will be missed.
iPhones Rule, Macs Drool
The iPhone is a mass market device, with around 25% of the smartphone market. The Mac’s market share isn’t so impressive — perhaps 3.6% worldwide, according to one estimate. Not to mention the iPod — 260,000,000 sold means hundreds of millions of consumers are familiar with iTunes.
The short of it: iPhones and iPods are breakout hits, but the Mac has yet to reach its full potential.
How to dramatically increase market share for the Mac? Launch a Mac App Store within iTunes, waving thousands of delicious Mac apps under the noses of millions of iPhone and iPod users.
Win-Win for Developers — and Apple
If Apple required all Mac apps to go through an approval process, that could destroy the developer ecosystem. But what if the Mac App Store was simply another way to get apps onto your Mac?
The visibility alone — getting face time with every Mac user — would make it worthwhile to submit a “Mac App Store” version of your app for approval.
What’s more, iTunes and the App Store have already conditioned iPhone and iPod users to be comfortable with small purchases — their credit cards have already been entered, unlike those buying apps on an unfamiliar website. So sales of Mac Apps would almost certainly increase; perhaps “unapproved” software would also see a small boost due to increased mindshare of the Mac as a platform.
With Mac app development becoming a more profitable business, we’d likely see a rejuvenation of the Mac developer community, leading to increased hardware sales and bigger market share.
Mac App Store: Why Not?
Given the benefits to developers (more money!), consumers (more great Mac apps, easier access) and Apple (ka-ching!), how could there be a case against a Mac App Store?
Opposition would likely come in the form of turning an open platform into a closed one — even if Apple doesn’t prevent the installation of unapproved Mac apps, the visibility of apps in the store would strongly incentivize developers to spend more time coding “official” apps than unofficial ones.
As such, Apple would gain near full control of the Apps running on its machines. Want to create a Mac App that uses Adobe Flash? Sure, you can create an unofficial app…but who’s gonna use it?
What’s more, if Apple were to succeed with a closed app store model on the desktop, other hardware makers could follow suit, creating more walled gardens. Instead of developing PC apps, would you need to develop for the HP App Store, the Dell App Store, the Asus App Store and the rest? Perhaps Google would step in with an Uber App Store.
Or perhaps we’d all realize that the web is the ultimate App Store, and revert back to web apps, undermining the whole concept? Maybe Facebook (or Google) could release a web-wide payment mechanism that makes monetizing web apps as effortless as the App Store experience. Maybe.
On the surface at least, it seems a Mac App Store would be good for developers, consumers and Apple itself. The downside: It would create yet another silo that goes against the grain of the open web. The store would increase efficiency by limiting choice. As Baratunde Thurston said of Apple’s business model, “Oppression feels really good and it’s very convenient”.
[Steve Jobs image credit: acaben]