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Mac App Store: the good and the bad

Today Apple launched its long-awaited Mac App Store, a desktop version of the popular marketplace that iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad owners already use to download mobile apps.

The new Mac App Store.
Image by sjsharktank via Flickr

To access the new App Store, Mac desktop users need to download Mac OS X update 10.6.6. Afterwards, the App store icon appears in your dock, and once you enter and browse, they’ll find it works similarly to the iOS app store, asking that users log-in with their iTunes account once they’re ready to download an app. The store’s layout looks virtually identical, with charts like Top Grossing and Top Free apps, and products that are organized into over 20 familiar categories like Education, Entertainment, Lifestyle, and Games. In fact, the experience resembles the iOS store so much, we’re wondering why they weren’t integrated from the get-go.

Apple  (AAPL) says over 1,000 apps are currently available for download, more than half the number that were available in the Chrome OS store when it debuted a month ago. The quality of those apps surpasses Google’s marketplace, too — you can pick up everything from Angry Birds and Bejeweled 3 to Aperture 3 and iLife — though conspicuously missing is Adobe Photoshop. Is the high-profile omission yet another sign of the bad blood between Apple and Adobe (ADBE), or is Adobe taking its sweet time? You decide.

As for pricing, there are some good deals and then there are some serious rip-offs. Aperture 3 for instance, is available for $80 — $120 less than normal. Other Apple software is priced reasonably, too: iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand all go for $14.99 each, while Pages, Keynote and Numbers sell for $19.99 each. But another app like Bejeweled 3, is priced at $20 — $18 more than the Bejeweled 2 Blitz for the iPhone — and a (badly) animated, annotated version of the classic play, Romeo and Juliet, is priced to move at an absurd $25. Obviously, it’s easier for Apple to price its own software lower, as it doesn’t take the 30% developer fee it charges third-party vendors, but the price disparity makes some of those more exorbitantly-priced items look bad.

Moving forward, it’ll be interesting to see the Mac Store evolve. Surely as developers figure out which apps sell, price points will come down, just as they did with iOS apps. But more importantly, it raises the question of how strict Apple will be in allowing apps into the store. Will content run through the same, seemingly arbitrary approval pipeline that iOS apps did at one time, resulting in the rejection of kosher items like Pulitzer Prize-winning satirist Mark Fiore’s?

The very same qualities that make the Mac App store so great for consumers – easy to log into, easy to purchase, easy to discover new content – because it creates a unified experience, could one day pose a problem. If it takes off and dominates Mac app sales, developers could find themselves put in an uncomfortable position, where any hope for success lies in whether Apple approves their work. For consumers, this could also pose a problem. Because while it’s one thing for Apple to govern the software we install on our mobile devices, do we also want the company to attain a position where it can dominate and govern the software we install on our desktops?

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