Though much of the buzz in the wake of today’s “Back to the Mac” event has been about the pair of sleek new MacBooks Air that Steve whipped out during one more thing (guilty as charged), the most revolutionary announcement was the Mac App Store. In one slide, Apple flipped the way people buy software for PCs on its head. Big ad budgets will soon be less important than a good relationship with Apple.
There’s a lot to debate about the Mac App Store (which we’ll do from now until a few years after its launch), but I want to touch on something no one is talking about yet: it makes Apple the greenest computer company on the planet.
For decades, software companies from Microsoft and Adobe strove to make software feel like a tangible product to justify their high prices. They shipped programs in huge boxes with several-hundred page user manuals, and they focused on making a package that stood out on the shelf. Even though times have changed, that’s the basic mentality of most commercial consumer software. Though we’re long past the days when software required took up multiple discs and the boxes have shrunk a lot, big-budget software is still driven by packaging and the physical. An increasing amount of software is distributed online, whether free, as shareware, or especially software updates, but this has always been secondary.
Until now. The Mac App Store will kill off the market for packaged software. When the various pieces of iWork are sold as downloads, a very clear message is sent: both for convenience and responsibility to the earth, virtually all software should be delivered over the Internet. I don’t imagine we’ll see Lion ship as an App Store download, but there’s little reason for anything under a gigabyte to get distributed any other way — it just won’t look responsible in the era of the BP oil disaster.
This is what Apple does, all the time. If I could sum up the Steve Jobs school of strategy in one sentence, it would be this: “Figuring out where what people want, Apple’s capabilities, and competitor’s weaknesses converge.” People hate going to computer stores to shop for software. They want it now. And, oh, by the way, Apple has a phenomenal template for online distribution that they’ve developed over the last 7 years, plus third-party software for the Mac doesn’t get a fair showing in non-Apple Store software retail. Add in the fact that Microsoft doesn’t currently have the data centers or the people required to approve, price, and distribute the millions of Windows applications that exist, and you have a perfect strategic move. No one can follow where Apple is going — at least not for a few years.
And that’s before even mentioning the fact that Apple has created the first computer for the rest of us that doesn’t travel by fossil fuels. Game, check, and mate.
Now, here’s hoping the Mac App Store is an indication that Apple will one day allow side-loading of iPhone and iPad apps, not that unrestricted software installation is on its last legs.
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