Mac App Store: Here We Go Again

Apple today announced the Mac App Store, offering the same basic setup as the iOS App Store, just for Snow Leopard and Lion flavors of OS X.

How will this play out? Here’s one possibility:

  • When it launches, the Mac App Store (MAS) will have a modest lineup of titles, maybe a thousand or so, based on some pre-launch work by Apple to seed the store

  • Shortly after launch, a bunch of new apps will make it into MAS, from developers with iOS titles they are backporting to OS X and who want a shot at any first-mover advantage they’ll get from being in the store early

  • Users buy apps, for the “gee whiz” factor, for having desktop versions of their favorite iOS apps, etc.

  • Initial sales, plus the Apple marketing machine, drive more and more iOS developers to cook up OS X versions of their apps and convince “classic” OS X developers to list on MAS, despite the 70/30 revenue split

  • Many of the developers elect to distribute only via MAS, since they come from iOS where there are no other options, and, well, listing apps in other outlets and doing marketing and all that is just sooooooooooo haaaaaaaaaaaaard

  • Over a span of a few years, MAS becomes the de facto sole outlet for small to mid-size OS X apps, with only the really expensive titles being sold elsewhere (and that mostly through the vendors’ own sites), as other places to sell or distribute OS X apps wither and die

Think this can’t happen?

It’s pretty damn close to what has happened with Android.

Android allows developers to distribute apps via means other than the Android Market, and it allows firms to set up competing markets. However, the Android Market has far and away the widest distribution — much like how MAS will have the widest distribution for OS X in three years — because it is pre-installed. As a result, most developers only ever bother listing on the Android Market, handing Google a de facto monopoly.

Now, I will admit, this monopoly has its advantages, in the form of a club with which to beat device manufacturers and carriers into going in a more Googly direction. Yet even a well-intentioned monopoly is still a monopoly, and intentions are often easier to change than is monopoly status.

What’s all the more galling is that the Android Market tech, circa October 2010, is weak sauce. The same developers who say that listing apps in other outlets and doing marketing and all that is just sooooooooooo haaaaaaaaaaaaard are also some of the more vocal complainers about the Market’s lack of functionality.

You reap what you sow, buddy. You give Google a monopoly — you have no right to complain when they behave like a monopolist.

So while I am sure some pundits will wonder if the advent of MAS will eventually lead to OS X being limited the way iOS is in terms of where you can get apps, I’m not worried. If Steve Jobs is savvy, he’ll learn from what has happened with Android, and will let developers hand Apple a monopoly rather than having to try to force it by business terms.

To quote Padmé Amidala, “So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.”

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