The Shame About The Mac App Store

On the latest 512 Podcast, Myke Hurley and Stephen Hackett offered their thoughts on the state of Apple. It’s one of the better and more sensible conversations on the subject, especially when it comes to how Apple is serving the users that come to them through iOS. They also cover some of the amazing workflows that power users, like Federico Viticci, have created for their mobile devices.

Despite the fact that I’m writing this on my iPhone, I’m still more of a Mac power user than an iOS guy. And while I may write it on my phone, I will edit and format it on my laptop using a variety of applications working in concert. I see myself continuing to do most of my heavy lifting on my Mac for a long time to come. That said, they did an excellent job summing up how Apple is catering to new users–especially those who arrive at the Mac through iOS–while still allowing geeks such as myself to do as we please.

Mac App Store, Sandboxing and Discovery

The problem for me, however, still lies with the Mac App Store (MAS) and the current approach to Sandboxing. This is Apple’s method of “protecting systems and users by limiting the resources an app can access”, but the extent of these limitations is cutting applications out of the Mac App Store. I understand the need to keep users safe. But I struggle with the idea of making it harder for them to find powerful and useful applications.

I recently spoke about Sandpaper Apps here on the site. These are the applications like LaunchBar, TextExpander, Keyboard Maestro and Hazel. They are the applications that make my workflow and my overall computing experience better. Initially I was concerned that Sandboxing was the beginning of the end for apps like these. I admit this was panic. As time goes on, it is becoming clear that Gatekeeper will provide a way for geeks such as myself to have whatever experience we please.

But there is still a problem. While it doesn’t seem like they are going anywhere, none of my beloved Sandpaper Apps are in the Mac App Store. This doesn’t make them any less usable, but it makes them far less discoverable. While the MAS will not be the only way to purchase applications, it’s unlikely that new users who are accustomed to only purchasing through Apple’s own store will ever find or seek these kinds of applications. I understand that Apple’s current approach is meant to protect users, but they also protect them from a better way of doing their work.

At this point, applications can either live outside the premier venue for selling Mac apps or developers can kneecap their applications in order to comply with Apple’s current approach. This mean that applications have to become less discoverable or less useful. An application like TextExpander would have to exist outside of the store or limit functionality in order to comply. Either one is not a win for developers and is not a win for Mac users, old or new. It leads to less innovation and less financial motivation to continue making a great app even better.

Yes, You Can Still Get These Apps, But …

As Myke pointed out during the episode, apps that choose to live outside the ecosystem can still be purchased directly through the website. I worry that this is akin to saying that a musician still stands much of a chance by only releasing their new album at record stores (ask your parents). While there may not be a perfect answer, I still hope and believe that there is a better one than Sandboxing. Apple still tests every app that goes into their store and could easily create a “warning” similar to the explicit tag in iTunes.

None of this is likely to make a difference to Apple’s bottom line. The Mac App Store is doing just fine in light of recent changes. It’s just unfortunate that useful applications that make the overall Mac experience better are now harder to find and therefore less likely to be created moving forward.

Am I Overreacting? Probably, But …

I agree with Myke and Stephen that the problem is being blown out of proportion, but I still think it’s important to voice these concerns. Is Apple being evil? Of course not. Is it going to change how a user like me uses my Mac? Not one bit. But it will make it harder for the next guy (and it would have made it harder for a guy like me who arrived at this platform a few years back) to find the best way to get things done on a Mac. And while this probably isn’t going to change, it’s still a shame.

There’s a better way, and while Apple certainly doesn’t need to find it, let’s hope they find a way to keep the platform safe while allowing it to be as powerful as possible.

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