Why the Mac App Store Matters

Today, Apple announced that they would no longer make computers.

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Well, not exactly. In fact, they just announced the new Air.  (Which, incidentally, is pretty awesome.) But if there was any doubt as to where Apple is headed, it’s become crystal clear. Computers are meant to be appliances. But whether this will drastically transform the industry, or lead to the end of the Mac, is uncertain.

The changes were previewed today in Apple’s Mac OS X “Lion” (the one name I figured they’d never, ever use is the one they used).  Essentially, “Lion” serves as a stopgap release in which major pieces of iOS make its way to the desktop. Things that fundamentally alter what Mac OS X is. Things that transform the computer into something very different.

Fullscreen, or “The Computer As Appliance”

The first, and probably the most significant in historical terms, is the move towards fullscreen views. The Mac has always–always always–derided the concept of a “maximized” window, a behavior common in Microsoft Windows. The reason has always been that having one window is, more often than not, a waste of space. It also prevents you from interacting with other things underneath it– status messages, background processes, etc.mdi-win.jpg

For some people this has seemed silly– but for others, who have appreciated the idea that a Word document doesn’t need to be accompanied by 400 pixels of unnecessary gray border, this has been seen as a benefit to using a Mac. Microsoft Windows has often used what’s called an MDI, or “Multiple Document Interface” — a gray window with small windows stuck inside it. This is to cut down on wasted space when every window would otherwise have its own, identical version of the toolbar.

MDI is pretty far out of favor now, with the only significant holdouts being Microsoft’s own products and Adobe Photoshop (which benefits from having a neutral gray background to begin with). There are a bunch of problems with it, such as the fact that it blocks your view, or the fact that simple features like side-by-side comparison or accessing multiple windows when stacked had to be “grafted on”. Fortunately for Apple, they’ve already got window management handled– Exposé and Spaces have done a great job clearing out the clutter (and for a really novel approach, check out 10/GUI). But I have my doubts about fullscreen mode being a possibility for all apps.

Why Fullscreen is a Bad Move


OS X “Lion” apparently allows any app to scale to full-screen– removing toolbars, the Dock, and all other windows. As a first-rate example, the new iLife suite is designed to work entirely within fullscreen– even for things like sending pictures in email, or uploading them to flickr.  The idea is that you should never need to step outside of fullscreen. But what about keyboard commands? How do you learn them without a visible menubar? How do you see the “blink” confirmation when you hit command-C? Are we just supposed to forget these commands, or retain them all in memory?

Another thought: when every app is in fullscreen, the Dock and the menubar status items are both invisible. That means no clock, no syncing, no email status. I appreciate the focus on “distraction-free work”, but is this really a smart way to use a modern, multitasking computer?

The Mac App Store & What It Means For You

lion_springboard2_20101020.jpgWhile Mac users have had (limited) gestures on the trackpad before, and a few things– like Dashboard– that hinted at App-like functionality, “Lion” is the release that pulls off all the dark cloths. For one, there’s an app store. Really. A Mac App Store. There are a couple of really positive changes this will enable, but honestly, there are some serious issues.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks this is a bad idea.

At its best, the Mac App Store would operate something like Steam. You have one place to download, one place to update, one place toinstall, and everything is handled for you. You can find apps you might have missed out on, and you can install software on as many Macs as you own. No more licensing. This is a Good Thing ™. Mashable suggested the idea of a Mac App Store back in April, saying:

“iPhones and iPods are breakout hits, but the Mac has yet to reach its full potential. [...] 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.”


At its worst, the App Store promotes the same closed, proprietary nature of Apple’s existing store. Apps must be approved, lowest prices win (sometimes), no interaction with the outstanding Mac development community (no browsing their websites, etc), no refunds or 30-day trial versions of software.

Mashable concedes this point, saying

“[The Mac App Store] would create yet another silo that goes against the grain of the open web. [...] Apple would gain near-full control of the apps running on its machines.”

What Apps Are Acceptable?

Thanks to TUAW, we have a roundup of some of the more pertinent (and likely distressing) points from Apple’s Mac Store Guidelines. Your Mac App will be rejected from inclusion in the Store if:

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  • It is a “beta,” “demo”, “trial,” or “test” version
  • It duplicates apps already in the App Store, particularly if there are many of them
  • The developer is “spamming” the App Store with many versions of similar apps. You will also be removed from the Developer Program if this occurs.
  • It is not packaged and submitted using Apple’s packaging technologies included in Xcode – No third party installers are allowed.
  • It require license keys or implements its own copy protection
  • It spawns processes that continue to run after a user has quit the app without user consent
  • It has metadata that mentions the name of any other computer platform
  • It uses location-based APIs to control vehicles, aircraft, or other devices
  • It uses location-based APIs for dispatch, fleet management, or emergency services
  • It has misspelled Apple product names in its name (i.e., GPS for Imac, iTunz)
  • It looks similar to Apple Products or apps bundled on the Mac, including the Finder, iChat, iTunes, and Dashboard
  • Your user interface is “complex or less than very good”
  • It changes the native user interface elements or behaviors of Mac OS X
  • It creates a store inside itself for selling or distributing other software (i.e., an audio plug-in store in an audio app)

  • Your game portrays realistic images of people or animals being killed or maimed, shot, stabbed, tortured or injured. (TUAW notes that this “includes Counter Strike, Halo, and pretty much every other good video game ever produced.”)
  • “Enemies” within the context of your game solely target a specific race, culture, a real government or corporation, or any other real entity. (One of the stranger requests on this list.)
  • It contains user generated content that is frequently pornographic (like “Chat Roulette” apps)

 

The Mac App Store also heralds the (eventual) death of sites like versiontracker–since updates would be distributed through the App Store as well. Not that this is a bad thing. It just means a whole lot of change, and change that everyone will have to deal with. If you aren’t on the App Store, you’re just not going to sell as much.

A Few Important Questions to Ponder

lion_springboard1_20101020.jpgWill developers raise their prices to compensate for Apple’s 30% take of their profits? Will Apple be able to comb through submissions by the thousands of existing developers? Will they make a fool of themselves by rejecting a common, well-known app? Will they ban programs like Evernote– which is allowed on the iPhone– because of its menubar icon and global keyboard commands? And what will become of these apps? Will they stay viable despite the fact that the masses won’t see them? Will they invent new interface ideas to compensate and “bend the rules”?

One thing is very clear: Apple will be making a whole lot of money.

I’ll write more about this in time, but what do you think about the changes previewed today? What’s your take on “Lion”? And do you think making computers more like the iPad is a smart move, or a bad one?

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3 Comments

  1. Nick Echevarria /

    Ehh, the changes previewed today left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

    The hardware was, obviously, amazing: the MacBook Air is an amazingly small and thin device, and it seems like we’re never going to stop saying that about Apple products.

    The fact that power machines are going to essentially be stripped down in a sense seems like a regression, although I will concede that to power users, changes like this won’t matter as we’ll still be able to get what we want out of our machines. To me, it’s more of a money making gimmick rather than full on change: it seems like Apple skirts on that because of their overly methodical nature (and who can blame them, when they make bajillions of dollars), but to me the changes in Lion are features the we don’t really need. I feel like they’re features that make us do things that we already can differently, a new coat of paint that Mac OS X, at least in my opinion, doesn’t really need. I may be looking at this a bit narrowly, but that was my gut reaction reading the previews today.

    This increases segregation of the internet has more worried for obvious reasons, and is a trend I hope doesn’t catch on like it probably will.

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