Digital Software Distribution

So yesterday Apple announced OS X 10.7 Lion and the availability of an OS X App Store. This all got me thinking and here are some things that Apple is not really saying. Sure the new App Store is not for every developer but it does have it’s appeal when you think about it. The obvious reasons for using it as a developer are:

*  lower piracy rate (if you choose to distribute only the AppStore version)

*  low advertising costs (if Apple does it’s job right)

*  a fully digital distribution channel with virtually no additional staff on your side


As far as the users go the reasons to use the App Store are:

*  easy way to search to tools

*  software is tested to work and not contain viruses

*  never have to go to store you have a one click purchasing option for every software available on the App Store.

*  all of your software practically updates itself


The problem is, that even if we overlook the minor details that Apple is conveniently forgetting to mention, the company still has a long way to go before they can fulfill the promise of a digital distribution channel. Oh first glance 30% of your revenues just so you can use the App Store is a lot. But is it really? If you ask Apple whey will probably point our that you won’t have to maintain any outbound logistics channels and they are correct to an extent. There is still outbound logistics only you are in a way selling to Apple rather than your end consumer. This in turn makes Apple a Tesco or a Walmart or a BestBuy. And why Apple would like you to believe that all they are doing is providing developers with a way to reach a new customer base, I think they are trying to do a lot more than that. In fact Apple is trying to be both a manufacturer of devices i.e. a creator of a market. And a retail chain for that same market. It is a brilliant idea if they manage to pull it off. However, Apple should thread lightly. There is a great chance of upsetting their longtime consumers and those are indeed the people behind the “Cult of Mac” and the ones that got the company through it’s darkest years.

Anyway, personal feeling aside I think that the best feature that Apple is overlooking is the fact that the App Store has an almost one click buy option. I say almost because if the implementation is the same as the one on iOS then you would be asked for a password every once in a while. Everything else that Apple said about the store is marketing hype. Yes you can update all your applications in one place but I can do that today with MacUpdate Desktop and it costs me only $20 a year. Ok I would get a lot more value if my girl friend or sister or any other member of my family would decide to switch to Mac but even as it is $20 a year is not that bad of a deal. Oh and none of the developers have to change their software in anyway. Even if you don’t care about a $20 a year solution, most of Apple’s software has some form of autoupdate option. Provided that you really do use the software on a regular basis and you have an internet connection then you will get updates on a regular basis. And quite frankly if you don’t really use the software or you don’t have internet (basically you are a modern day Robinson Crusoe) then who cares if your applications are not up to date.

So apple says that an App Store greatly reduces piracy. Really? How so? Your system is not locked in any particular way, you have access to all the files on it and therefore you can change the files. You know how jailbreaking works and how you can install apps for free on a jailbroken iOS device? Well it would take a very minor effort to do the same on an OS X computer. You won’t even have to jailbreak anything. All you would be required to do is patch the App Store. It’s possible that Apple has some grand plans of actually locking the App Store by using some trick but I know enough about software development to know the only reason why the iOS is protected is because you have no access to the files. There is no magic there. And no one is even thinking about locking the Mac because that would be plain stupid. You cannot stop piracy and for Apple to claim that the App Store would do that is silly. Also companies never price their products based on the piracy that they expect. Oh sorry almost never. Remember Microsoft? Well in certain countries you can actually get a free licence for MS software if you a from a certain type of organisation or get it at a very very low price otherwise.

And all this is just the top of the iceberg. Apple would have to fix the upgrade problem that they have with applications, figure out how to allow demo version, make the App Store an integral part of the OS, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that the App Store is the way of the future for software distribution but Apple has a very rocky road ahead of them. And why should there be a separate application to deal with software installations? I don’t want a package manager like every linux distribution out there. Be smart about it and integrate the App Store much like widgets and exposé are integrated into the system. I don’t mind change but I have just come to expect more from Apple than a half thought out 1/3 integrated system. But hey it’s possible that Lion brings that much wanted integration and more …


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