Apple Design Awards to allow Mac apps again - from the Mac App Store, anyway

Is the decision to limit Apple Design Awards to Mac App Store products another sign of draconian Apple enforcing a "walled garden" around its business? No. After all, there were no Mac app awards in 2010 at all.

At this year's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), for the first time, the only Mac apps that will be considered for an Apple Design Award (ADA) are ones that are in the Mac App Store. The decision to limit ADAs to Mac App Store software is raising eyebrows in the blogosphere - is it another sign of draconian Apple enforcing a "walled garden" around its business?

No. At worst, it's a bit of shameless self-promotion for Apple, showing off a key new technology. If you're upset by this, you would do well to remember than in 2010, Apple didn't give out any Mac ADAs at all. Last year's Apple Design Awards were focused exclusively on iOS applications. So something is better than nothing.

By way of background: on Monday Apple announced plans for its 2011 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), which happens in June in San Francisco. Among the events planned for WWDC are the Apple Design Awards (ADAs), which recognize outstanding iOS and Mac OS X apps.

"This year's Apple Design Awards will be awarded to developers whose iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps are currently on the App Store," says Apple on the ADA Web site.

This is the first year that a Mac App Store has existed. Apple introduced it in January with the release of Mac OS X 10.6.6. The software is installed automatically and appears in the user's Dock.

Use of the Mac App Store is purely optional for Mac users - they can get Mac app software from wherever they prefer - the store, the developer's Web site, it doesn't matter. Likewise, Mac OS X app developers are not required to use the store as a distribution mechanism, although many have opted to stick their toes in the water. And at least a few have decided to use the Mac App Store as their exclusive distribution system, too. The Mac App Store simply makes it easier for new Mac users, especially, to discover software they might otherwise have overlooked.

The Mac App Store has been a key point of promotion for Apple ever since Steve Jobs previewed it during the company's "Back to the Mac" event, where it unveiled the redesigned MacBook Air and gave the public a bit of information about Mac OS X "Lion," which is due out this summer.

This will limit the scope of applications that will be submitted for ADA consideration. Those apps will have to pass muster with Apple's developer requirements for Mac App Store publication. Private Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are a no-no, for example.

At the end of the day, ADAs aren't that big a deal. Don't get me wrong - over the years, a lot of really good apps have won ADAs. But just as many, if not more, have been cast aside in favor of superior alternatives, made obsolete or just don't exist anymore. Getting an ADA isn't an indication that the app is going to make a lasting, significant impact to the Apple industry or its users.

Much like any industry award, whether it's an Oscar or a Clio, sometimes the ADAs have more to do with what the industry - in this case Apple - wants to promote than what's actually good. In that respect, this year's ADAs will be no different than any other's, no matter how Apple wants to stack the deck.