Has Apple given up on the Mac App store?

When another developer dropped out of the Mac App Store last week, we got to thinking. Why does the Mac App Store even exist? Has Apple forgotten about it? Does anyone care? We do -- at least enough to look at the situation and render our verdict.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Other than an article last week about another developer dropping out, it's been quite a long time since we've discussed the Mac App Store in any depth. There are a few useful apps available from the Mac App Store, but if you're going to do anything serious with you Mac, you're going to go elsewhere for your apps.

For example, it's not like you're going to download Photoshop from the Mac App store. PowerPoint, Word, or any of the Office apps? No chance. How about development tools like PhpStorm or Coda? Nope. Favorite utilities like Keyboard Maestro or TextExpander or Hazel? Nah. Virtualization tools like Parallels or VirtualBox? Not a chance.

Where the iOS App Store is the center of the app universe for iOS users, the Mac App Store was an afterthought and a bolt-on that never really took off.

10 great apps too powerful for the Mac app store

When native apps were first made available for iOS devices, the iOS app store was launched at the same time, and to this day, you can't download or sideload apps for your iOS devices without jailbreaking your iPhone or iPad. This has made the iOS app store into a juggernaut of sales, with more than $10 billion in sales in 2014 alone.

By contrast, the Mac had been around for more than 20 years before Apple introduced the Mac App Store. We don't have proud press releases from Apple about the success of the Mac App Store, probably because there haven't been many.

In fact, last May, a developer reached #8 on the overall Mac App Store and #1 in the graphics category on the day he launched. Sounds good, until you look at the numbers: on the day he launched, he sold 94 copies of his $4.99 program. That means he made $328 on launch day with a Top Ten app that also topped a major category.

But revenue isn't the only problem. The Mac App Store has a lot of the same developer limitations that the iOS app store has -- long product and update review delays, restricted functionality, and that 30 percent off the top of the developer's bottom lone.

The result is that today, you'll only see a relatively small number of solid products on the Mac App Store and a lot of drek. Developers have been failing to adopt the Mac App Store, and our own Kevin Tofel wrote last week that another popular Mac application, Sketch, was pulling out of the Mac App Store.

We haven't heard much about it in Apple's announcements. It's not like any of the recent big Apple events have focused on the Mac App Store. There's also been no evidence that Apple has done anything to reduce the limitations on developers or make the Mac App Store more compelling.

In fact, Apple hasn't even kept up with the iOS app store in features. The Mac App Store can't handle bundled products, and -- worse -- the promise of safe and reliable apps went out the window recently when Apple botched a security certificate and broke a whole bunch of Mac App Store apps.

You can't blame the falling PC sales business for the Mac App Store's performance. As Adrian Kingsley-Hughes reports, Mac sales just had their biggest quarter ever. So, Mac sales continue to rise, while Mac App Store sales continue to disappoint.

So what's going on? Is the Mac App Store a bona-fide failure? Has Apple forgotten it? Has Apple given up on it? Or does Apple have something exciting up its sleeve?

Here's what I think. The iOS App Store is a rocket ship and it wasn't all that hard to replicate the concept for the Mac. Some small incremental revenue comes into Apple (although clearly not much), and it creates a category of applications for app store oriented consumers -- and parity with the trend in the market towards app stores. If there's ever a merger of the iOS and OS X platforms, there will be a migration solution in place.

But the reality is that big applications and powerful applications -- the reasons many people buy Macs -- don't function well with the sort of safety restrictions imposed on smartphones. With a long history of Mac developers selling straight to customers, having control of their own update cycles, and their full revenue, most serious developers don't consider the Mac App Store an important play.

I expect we'll see it around for years, but I doubt we'll see it take any new form. That's because, to force developers into the Mac App Store, they'd have to eliminate much of the functionality that makes the Mac special and so capable for so many tasks.

It's unlikely that Apple will limit the Mac's usefulness just to force a Mac App Store on its users. That's a golden goose Apple is unlikely to kill just for a 30 percent cut of app sale revenue.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

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