The Mac App Store is rubbish! Rent apps instead with Setapp [Reviews]

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The Setapp folder full of applications
Setapp currently offers more than 60 apps, with plans to expand.
Image: Setapp

Apple’s Mac App Store is broken. For developers and Mac users alike, the online store just isn’t working.

It’s too hard for buyers to find good software. And, thanks to Apple’s picky restrictions, the Mac App Store can make life difficult for developers.

Setapp, a Netflix-style subscription service for Mac apps, offers an innovative alternative. Instead of buying apps individually, you rent a bunch of them for $9.99 a month.

While it might sound unnerving to anyone accustomed to the idea of buying Mac apps outright, after using the service for two months, I found it liberating. Setup is dead-easy. And the selection is fantastic. Setapp serves up more than 60 Mac apps, all handpicked by MacPaw, the Mac development company that dreamed up the service.

Solving problems for Mac users and app developers

There are currently two major problems and trends facing Mac app developers. One is users finding your efforts; the other is you making money when they do.

Major software vendors like Microsoft, Adobe and JetBrains have been able to make successful revenue models with recurring billing models for software, but this remains a challenge for smaller developers. How can they maintain enough releases to justify a monthly fee? Services like Humble Bundle have helped, but they are typically one-off marketing pushes rather than a source of sustained income.

In addition to their Mac utility apps, MacPaw released Devmate in May 2015 as a platform for managing all aspects of application distribution, updates, subscriptions, licenses and reporting. Initially for Mac applications, there is now a Windows beta program.

Building on the experiences gained from Devmate, Setapp aims to offer another application-distribution channel for users and developers, hopefully solving many of the problems that plague Apple’s official Mac App Store.

The service is a flat-fee subscription service costing $9.99 per month (first month free). All applications are ad-free, full-featured versions. Setapp is not the first attempt at creating a centralized location for finding and updating Mac applications (and neither was the Mac App Store). Setapp takes its place alongside solutions for developer-focused software like Homebrew and Cask.

Appy times

The makers of Setapp clearly learned from other services’ earlier mistakes. Since Setapp works with (and enhances) the native Mac experience instead of replacing it, the whole experience is a joy.

At first use, it felt like a cross between DropBox and Steam, with application aliases available in a Setapp folder inside my Applications folder. From inside the folder, you simply choose an app alias and double-click it. This will show you an information screen. From there, you click Open to start downloading the app.

Application info screen
The Ulysses info screen gives quite a lot of information about the app before the download begins.

As these are standard Mac applications, you retain access to standard OS X features like Spotlight and Services, even if you haven’t installed the application yet, which is really cool.

Setapp aims to make the experience as seamless and “Mac-like” as possible. It also adds a unified updater — akin to the “update all apps automatically” feature in iOS — which is something the Mac App Store tried to do but failed.

One minor issue I found was that before downloading anything, the folder is over 100MB (with the current app selection, which is a small percentage of the planned number). It’s not a major issue, but I wonder how large the folder could become before you have downloaded any “real” applications.

Highlights of Setapp’s applications selection

Here’s a small selection of the Setapp applications that I found most useful.

Applications for writers

As a technical writer, I love markdown and use it almost exclusively for all my writing. Ulysses is a staple of writers like myself, and it’s one of Setapp’s standout applications. Full of features to keep you writing to the best of your ability, it’s an extremely polished application and well integrated into the Apple ecosystem.

Ulysses screenshot
The highly regarded Ulysses writing app in action.
Screenshot: Cult of Mac

Coupled nicely with Ulysses is another Mac text stalwart, Marked, a markdown preview tool that integrates with other Mac text editors.

Marked screenshot
The markdown preview tool Marked works well with Ulysses.
Screenshot: Cult of Mac

Applications for grounded socialites

I use social media extensively, but maybe due to my age, I love my desktop and am frequently frustrated by services that only (officially) work on mobile.

Flume lets you enjoy Instagram with a beautiful Mac application including all the features you need straight from the mobile app, including ads.

Flume screenshot
Flume brings Instagram to the Mac desktop.
Screenshot: Flume

I am a latecomer to WhatsApp, slowly dragged there due to an increasing number of friends using it, but the app is still not part of my daily routine. Therefore I frequently forget about messages. WhatsApp has an official desktop application, but App for WhatsApp (a catchy name, I know) offers a much better native Mac experience.

App for WhatsApp screenshot
App for WhatsApp brings a mobile app to the Mac.
Screenshot: Cult of Mac

Applications for efficiency

Applications to help streamline your work, personal and Mac life are the most well-served by Setapp. Here are my personal favorites, which are aimed at keeping your system clean (which I am obsessed with).

A true Mac classic, iStat Menus is ideal for those who like to keep an eye on what’s happening on their computers in minute detail when Activity Monitor isn’t quite enough. I also like MacPaw’s Gemini, which I now regularly use to find and delete a surprising number of duplicate files that would otherwise clog my hard drive.

Gemini screenshot
Gemini weeds out duplicate files on your Mac.
Screenshot: Gemini

Are you a developer? Submit your app to Setapp

MacPaw is focusing on quality, not quantity, with Setapp’s app selection. The current roster shows that. If you want your app considered, get in touch with the MacPaw.

MacPaw has based the revenue model for Setapp on two income streams, best explained in these two images.

First, a revenue split based on your original application price and the number of users:

Funding model for Setapp
The funding model for Setapp.

I wonder how well this model will work for applications that people use irregularly, like CleanMyMac. It’s one of Setapp’s current offerings, but I am likely to run it only once a month.

You can also earn referral fees for getting new users to sign up for Setapp:

Setapp referral model
Setapp’s referral model.
Image: Setapp

App, app and away!

I found the Setapp experience flawless, problem-free and so Mac-like I barely noticed the short delay getting hold of an application I needed. Hopefully, MacPaw will convince enough developers to sign up their apps to justify the price and help solve the problems of Mac developers and users alike.

Interested? Try Setapp for free for a month. No credit card required.

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8 responses to “The Mac App Store is rubbish! Rent apps instead with Setapp [Reviews]”

  1. Reed Richmond says:

    Here’s a question I couldn’t find an answer for. With the Mac App Store I have password and can log in from work. Any App I purchase gets downloaded to my account. I have access to those apps from home or from work. So, does SetApp work the same way. As long as I log-in to the account, it doesn’t care where I am using it. If I download an app to use at work, it will also be available at home, correct? (different desktop computers).

    • Volodymyr Voronin says:

      Setapp support here.

      That is absolutely correct for your case – you can use your Setapp subscription on two Macs simultaneously. Subscription options to cover more Macs are expected to be available shortly.

      You can also sign out on one device and switch to another Mac.

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  2. londoner says:

    Great idea but it doesn’t include a single app I want to use…

    • Chris Ward says:

      What apps would you like to see on the list? Within reason, obviously there’s not going to be Photoshop or anything ike that ;)

      • londoner says:

        It wasn’t that I was look for a specific app and it wasn’t there (although I would have loved to see djay pro in there) but more that the collection of apps didn’t appeal to me (and there are many similar ones). Hopefully in the next 1-2 years the list will grow and there will be more variety.

  3. chapuys says:

    This is clearly an advert. Cult of Mac have quite a lot of articles ‘reviewing’ Setapp in different ways. Please list this as an advert as it could be breaching UK and US law.

    • Chris Ward says:

      Nope, I actually met the MacApp people independently last year at WebSummit in Lisbon and have been using the service ever since.

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