The Mac App Store is broken, and developers are sick of it

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You now have to pay more to become an App Store developer. Photo: Apple
The Mac App Store is broken. Photo: Apple

First launched in January 2011, the Mac App Store promised to give developers the same sort of centralized marketplace to sell their apps that had made the iOS App Store such a success. Instead of making developers rich or giving them a better place to market their apps, though, an increasing number of developers are actually leaving the Mac App Store in what Milen Dzhumerov, one of the devopers behind Monodraw, has called a “subtle exodus.”

Why? It all has to do with Apple’s Mac App Store policies.

In a post on his site, Milen argues that the Mac App Store has had a number of negative effects on developers. It has pushed developers into unsustainable pricing by design. It makes it impossible for developers to rely upon things like demos to promote their apps. It doesn’t support paid upgrades. Customer reviews have a negative bias, and developers have no ability to respond to unfair reviews. And Apple’s app sandboxing rules are hopelessly opaque:

Developers found themselves having to make a hard choice – severely degrade the functionality of their software or leave the MAS. Consequently, entire categories of apps cannot be distributed via the MAS because they cannot be sandboxed without crippling their feature set. There is growing number of abandoned apps which are severely lagging behind their direct download counterparts. We are talking about some very popular apps, not obscure hacks that require kernel extensions.

(And as John Gruber notes, Apple’s own apps are exempt from sandboxing rules.)

Milen argues for a number of effective ways that Apple could make the Mac App Store better for developers, including introducing a trivial-to-implement demo function. But the effect of all these policies together is that the best Mac developers are increasingly deciding to leave the Mac App Store.

My ultimate fear is that the complacent state of the Mac App Store would lead to the slow erosion of the Mac indie community. The MAS is the best place to get your software, it comes bundled with your OS, it’s very convenient but when all the issues compound, developers will vote with their feet and continue the slow exodus. I feel that Apple needs to encourage the availability of high quality software rather than quantity over quality – the first step would addressing the core issues that have been known for years.

I agree with Milen. The Mac App Store (and honestly, the iOS App Store as well) hase been mismanaged for years. Look at a marketplace like Steam to see how much better Apple could be handling this. Do you agree? Sound off in the comments.

Source: The Subtle Exodus

  • As an end user, I have lost all faith in the MAS. Putting aside the sandboxing restrictions, the review cycle is a joke. Apps like Evernote and Tweetdeck are much more feature packed and frequently updated when compared to their MAS counterparts, which end up taking weeks to pass review.

  • RobertPerez1

    Well, as a consumer, I don’t give a crap what the developer thinks and I LIKE the Mac App Store. I don’t want to remember countless passwords and be archiving software keys. I just want one place to go and restore my software when I do a fresh OS install. Apple and the developers need to make this marriage work for the sake of the kids.

    • Morris Zwick

      Concur!

    • Brian Ward

      I think there are pros and cons as a consumer. I like the convenience of the App Store and try to get all my apps there if available. I just upgraded to the latest 1Password app a few months ago (I couldn’t get upgrade pricing so I didn’t buy it from there as I recall). But now with the new iCloud updates, they won’t let me sync through iCloud because I don’t have the App Store version of the app. Kind of ridiculous that their only solution is to use DropBox or make me re-buy the same version of the app I already have in the App Store — simply because they have no way to give me a crossgrade key.

  • The MAS needs developers to succeed and to survive; if they continue to ignore the needs of the devs, the devs will stop using it. And the conveniences it offers the consumer will be moot.

  • Scott Leonard

    I think this is more of a developer issue than a consumer issue, sure an improvemnet would offer a greater variaty of applications to the end user, but all in all the majority of users are completely unaware and complacent with the current status of the MAS. On the contrary as a developer it is frustrating… Apple continues to attempt to corral the OSX platform, pretending its a phone, and not a computer… It is a computer, not saying sandboxing should be completely thrown-out but it severly cripples the quality of apps available to you the end.

  • trixiesirish

    As an end user, I am more than sick of in-app purchases. Most of the apps are like this now. Either make it free, or make me pay for it up front. Because one thing I’ve noticed is that if Apple’s support directs me to reset my device (NOOOOOO!), I lose the majority of my in-app purchases and either have to do without or buy it again. Not everyone has a restore purchase option. Makes me want to avoid the app stores altogether.

  • Tim LeVier

    Only speaking on the Mac App Store:

    I like it as an option. For the mass produced items like Microsoft or Adobe products, its great that I can simply go to one storefront. But with that said, I think I’ve only downloaded 2 or 3 other non-apple items from the store probably for the exact reasons in this article.

    I’ll get great applications from where ever they are available. But if I’m perusing junk applications like a pinball game – I’m more likely to head to the Mac App Store just for the security. I think I have more things installed on my machine that would never pass MAS scrutiny, which shows that if something is “necessary” to workflow, it doesn’t matter where it comes from.

  • Thomas Marsh-Connors

    Nothing is wrong with the Mac App Store.

    • johnnyimac

      Baaa
      maybe you as a consumer dont see it yet – but its there, and it will hit you consumers – not directly, the store will work, but choice will be restricted as less developers use it.
      Putting your hands over your ears, closing your eyes and chanting “nothing is wrong” is *not* going to solve this.

  • aestusblog

    The Mac App Store experience is so great that it appears to be good for customers but it is only a short term benefit. As developers go out of business because of unsustainable Apple may kill off its most important resource: its developer community.

  • Nathan

    It doesn’t occur to me to even go to the Mac App Store when I’m trying to download something.

  • The timing of this article is interesting; there’s been so much discussion around this topic lately. I don’t think anyone can argue the seamless user experience of buying in the Mac App Store from a customer point of view, but John you’re completely right in that Apple will end up pushing developers away if they continue down this “restrictive” road with their policies.

    There have already been plenty of big names walking away from Mac App Store distribution, and plenty more will follow if Apple isn’t careful…

    We actually wrote an article about this on the Paddle blog (http://blog.paddle.com/5-reasons-why-developers-need-to-stop-relying-on-the-mac-app-store/), addressing why developers need to stop relying on the MAS in the first place. Trials and sandboxing are just two elements of it.

    I’m quite interested to know whether you think developers should be looking to expand their distribution channels as opposed to selling solely via the Mac App Store, John.

  • Spiffers

    When there is just crap left in the store, real devs can come back with proper software and proper pricing.