With desktop-based iOS, will Mac go the way of the iPad?

Oct 20, 2010

Apple (AAPL) used its “Back to the Mac” press conference event to announce Mac computers will soon be getting a version of the iOS App Store that allows customers to purchase apps for their iPhones and iPads. It will be a major change in the operating system of the Mac – instead of a traditional […]

Apple (AAPL) used its “Back to the Mac” press conference event to announce Mac computers will soon be getting a version of the iOS App Store that allows customers to purchase apps for their iPhones and iPads.

It will be a major change in the operating system of the Mac – instead of a traditional OS, Apple computers will now function a lot more like an iPad with a mouse. It’s called Lion, and it’ll be available in Summer 2011.

But Mac users don’t have to wait that long. The desktop app store will be available for Snow Leopard users in just 90 days.

Facetime comes to the Mac

First up in the available desktop apps is Facetime, the Apple app that allows video chatting on iPad and iPhone 4. Updates to Facetime will allow users to chat with others regardless of which device they’re connected with, so Mac owners will be able to make Facetime calls to iPhones.

Developers can submit apps staring November 1

Apple will start taking app submissions from developers in November, and it seems as though the rules and standards of the current iTunes App Store will be pretty much the same as what the Mac store will be like. Apps can run full-screen and utilize mouse track pads to replicate the sort of touch screen sensitivity many function with on iPad and iPhone. The store will feature a ratio of about 70% free apps to 30% paid ones.

It all sounds cool, and the implication from Apple is that the addition of the desktop app store could lead to profound changes in personal computing – certainly ease of use is one of Apple’s main concerns, which is why iOS works so well.

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What will a desktop App Store look like?

However, it remains to be seen how well Apple streamlines the desktop app experience. One of the big issues with the App Store on iTunes is that it’s huge. Apple likes to boast that iPhone and iPad have 300,000 available apps – but that giant number isn’t always a good thing, and a lot of those apps are lackluster. Apple doesn’t offer any iTunes refunds, so even today, buying any iPhone app is a gamble. Will the same be true with Mac store apps? Will the store be filled with thousands of tiny games and one-function apps that, while not necessarily bad, are easier to justify as momentary diversions or handy tools on a phone?

Which brings up another question – how will the desktop app store affect what kinds of programs are available? This could presumably go either way. The app store could have the effect of eating up programs and dividing them into much tinier, limited-functionality apps, similar to what’s available on the iPad or iPhone. Lots of those apps do a few things well, but the programs are usually small because of the limits of the platform.

A huge desktop app store could have similar issues, causing a trend of apps that are limited in scope and require the purchasing of lots of little pieces. Take a photo editing program for example – a decent one contains a wealth of features, while many photo editors on iPhone can only make one or two kinds of changes. The small-app culture could trend toward paying more for all those features by buying them on a smaller scale. Or, it could mean tailoring apps to be exactly what the user wants or needs by paying only for the features desired.

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And, on the other hand, the App Store could just as easily lead to lots of bigger, well-priced apps that can be more impressive when they have the power of a full computer behind them. The iTunes App Store is littered with junk, to be sure, but it also has some very impressive standouts at low prices that push the envelope of what a phone should logically be capable of. Opening up the desktop app store will undoubtedly breed some incredible creativity and lots of apps will have deep value.

But if Apple must go the route of bridging iOS with its computers, hopefully it takes a hard look at its App Store design and comes up with a better way (or a harder-line process) of streaming out those apps that are a weak in value and seem designed to prey on consumers who have to take the gamble to buy them from the store.

It’ll be really annoying to drop the price of a suitable computer app – for argument, let’s say $20 or more – only to find that it barely works and doesn’t live up to its description, or that the reviews in the store were wrong. The “buy it and review it” method of helping determine what’s worth spending money on shouldn’t cut it if the prices are more than $5 for Mac apps. It’s up to Apple to create a better marketplace for its customers. Dealing with 300,000 apps that aren’t always great isn’t such a big deal on an iPhone, but customers might be less forgiving when saddled with expensive bad apps on their Macs.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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