Today, Apple released Mac OS 10.6.6, which adds the Mac App Store. I wanted to give a sneak peak, especially from an accessibility point of view. I also wanted to share some thoughts on the matter.
Before I got my iPhone, I wondered why everyone kept talking about apps. For those who don’t know, an app refers to a software application, and up to now it meant software running on a mobile platform such as an iPhone. That has now changed. An app also usually has a very affordable price, anywhere from free to $5.99 seems to cover most. Despite their affordable price, if you ask most long-term iPhone users how much they’ve spent on apps, they will grudgingly tell you that they would rather not know. Apple made a very smart move offering software at such affordable prices, but will this clash with the established industry and its price points?
The Mac App Store behaves as advertised. It acts just like the app store on an iDevice. It has a toolbar with categories and a search field, then the main html area with the content. Within the content area, you will either see groups or links. For VoiceOver users, just interact with a group and you will see the link for more information, and the button to purchase the app. Activate the link, then go past it and you will see the information. For links, just activate them and a new page will come up, just as it would in Safari. I feel glad to report that I found the Mac App Store a fully accessible experience, and as satisfying as my sighted counterparts. Apps install immediately, just as they do on an iDevice. I indeed found it very enjoyable. Almost too enjoyable.
For some time, I felt confused as to what exactly the Mac app store would offer. At first, it seemed like they offer the same programs you could download and buy from traditional channels. I saw software with both traditional software prices and lower app-like prices. It seemed like a good mix. The app store knows if you already have something from iWork and iLife installed. It also correctly identified TextWrangler and Yojimbo. I had already installed these myself in the standard way one installs third party software. I started to get confused again. While reading Bare Bones Software’s Mac App Store FAQ, they said that the app store versions of two of their products did not include command line utilities to comply with Apple’s app submission policies. And here we go. This blurs the distinction between third-party software and apps.
Apple sells the software in iWork and iLife as individual pieces of software. I kind of wish I would have known this, as I recently purchased iWork and iLife. From iWork I wanted Pages and Numbers, and from iLife I just wanted GarageBand. Purchasing iWork and iLife cost around $120 for the complete suites. Pages and Numbers cost $19.99, and GarageBand costs $14.99. That would have saved me a considerable amount of money.
Apple has done something very interesting here. Users will love the influx of affordable software and effortless one-click install. It may even lead to Mac increasing its market share, something I would certainly welcome, especially among the blind. A lot of developers will see their programs exposed to a much greater distribution and potential market. Apple will most certainly make a killing!
But what about the traditional software developers? This article got me thinking last night. It paints a pretty grim picture for traditional Mac developers, seeing them overrun by a new world of cheap apps. We will now see the merging of two different cultures. One group, the traditional developers, work in a very established environment dating back to the eighties when the first Macs came out. They can charge $20-$40 for a utility, $50 for a game, and more for specialty programs. They also feel very loyal towards their Macs!
The other group, app developers, come from a much newer market and culture. The mobile app market feels much more like the wild west. Authorities don’t even know how to regulate it. Apps come and go, as do the most brutal reviews, and the apps that endure can become legendary. Before today, apps exclusively ran on mobile platforms, meaning they couldn’t do as much due to hardware limitations. Developers have managed to do some pretty amazing things, but most apps will handle a very specific thing. They also cost far less than traditional software, at just a few dollars for most. And therein lies the problem.
Will someone still pay $40 for a quality piece of software? Can these companies continue to sell their software at standard prices, or has Apple lowered the guillotine upon the succulent necks of their most devout group: Mac developers? I don’t think so. Hopefully, Apple knows better than to piss off the group of people who stuck with them through the turbulent nineties, and without whom they would not exist today and enjoy their current status as industry kings. They’ve done so much good for the blind. The MacBook Air looks so beautiful. And that apple logo feels so cool!
Still, something feels uneasy to me, like a character from a Vincent Price movie. I think of Wikileaks, how the establishment hates freedom, and how they want to regulate the Internet. What better way to do that than by regulating the very software allowed on a machine? Will this lead to a trend where Apple, Microsoft, and Google become gatekeepers, regulating the programs which can run on their operating systems? Will we eventually have to jailbreak all our computers? If we see them reach for the tired excuse of national security, we should immediately drop everything and run to GNU/Linux. I really hope that doesn’t happen. A lot of people love their Apples! I feel glad I’ve learned to love both. I also feel glad knowing that humans always find ways to adapt, programmers especially. It’ll work itself out. The Goddess prevails!