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Apple's Mac App Store Reinvents Software Sales

Some Mac OS developers see problems with Apple's 'onerous' terms.

Slideshow: 10 Killer Mac Applications
Slideshow: 10 Killer Mac Applications
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Apple has just made an offer that few Mac software developers will be able to refuse: In exchange for 30% of the revenue from their Mac OS X apps, Apple will host and sell those apps through a forthcoming Mac App Store application that will come with every Mac computer or will be downloaded onto most existing ones.

There's a cost beyond the 30% revenue share: Developers of Mac OS applications will have to submit their applications to Apple for approval, a process that has caused no small bit of strife for the company and iOS developers.

Mac OS developers will still have the option of creating Mac OS X applications and selling them on their own. But they will face a tough decision: Sitting on the sidelines may give competitors a chance to gain traction, which could hurt future sales. As with the iTunes App Store, there's likely to be a land rush in the Mac App Store, when it opens in 90 days, as software makers seek to establish their presence and brand ahead of competitors.

Paul Kafasis, CEO of Rogue Amoeba, a developer of Mac audio software, expressed some reservations about the terms. "Thirty percent isn't particularly reasonable, but it's not unexpected either," he said in an e-mail. "For access to almost 50 million Mac users, with just a couple clicks, it's at least in the ballpark. That said, with direct downloads, most developers pay 3-10% in credit card fees and processing. 30% is quite a bit more, and for what exactly?"

At the moment, Rogue Amoeba is waiting to see how the Mac App Store is received. "It's certainly something we're looking at, but the restrictions and guidelines they've published are onerous at best," said Kafasis.

Ambrosia Software president Andrew Welch voiced similar concerns.

"Ambrosia is certainly interested in the idea of a centralized Mac application store," he said in an e-mail. "However the restrictions imposed by Apple on the applications may make it impossible for a number of our applications to be submitted."

Jeff LaMarche, a veteran Mac programmer and CTO of iOS development firm MartianCraft, believes the revenue split is reasonable, given the cost of setting up and maintaining a Web store and the audience that Apple is offering.

"Things like being featured in the App Store or having your app included in an Apple commercial or billboard can be huge wins for indie software developers, and you can't underestimate the value of impulse buys with one-click purchasing," he said in an e-mail. "I think, ultimately, the bulk of developers will move to the Mac App Store."

LaMarche says he's not sure how the Mac App Store review process will compare to the iTunes App Store review process for iOS apps. At the very least, Apple can be expected to forbid legally risky or unlawful apps as a form of self-protection.

"From a developer's perspective, it would be nice if the rules were relaxed some from the iOS App Store and were more in-line with the policies Apple currently has for music and movies in the iTunes Store, but I really just don't know what they'll do," LaMarche said.

The Mac App Store takes Apple further away from the open Internet. The company could have made its Mac App Store run in a Web browser. It could have made its store listings available through an API or some form of syndication. Instead, it's offering a proprietary desktop application. And it's likely to get paid handsomely for doing so.


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Update: Added comment from Andrew Welch.

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