Replacing Apple Downloads with the Mac App Store

Apple has long had Apple Downloads, a section of Apple.com that lists third-party software.  It’s been a popular place for users to browse and sample the wealth of Mac software available from both large and small developers, including St. Clair Software. We get a significant amount of web traffic from Apple Downloads.

I recently received an email from Ron Okamoto, Vice President of Worldwide Developer Relations at Apple, notifying developers that Apple Downloads will be going away, replaced by the new Mac App Store. Because both Default Folder X and App Tamer do not meet the Mac App Store guidelines, this is a big cause of concern for us. We’ll lose a lot of customer visibility, and won’t be able to replace it by putting our apps in the Mac App Store.

I wrote Ron this reply:

Thanks for your notification – I can’t say that I’m surprised as Apple’s support for the Downloads section of Apple.com has been waning for quite a while.  I fully expected Apple Downloads to just go away without even getting a notification, so I applaud your professionalism in actually letting us know.
As a long-time Apple developer (I’ve been doing this since 1988) I’ve become accustomed to changes in direction, forced rewrites as Apple has adopted or invented new technologies, and sometimes capricious decision making on Apple’s part. As in the past, I’ll deal with what comes my way and work to keep my business healthy, but shutting down a primary traffic source for our web site is going to make things quite a bit more difficult.
In your letter, you say “the Mac App Store will be the best destination for users to discover, purchase, and download your apps,” but that doesn’t apply to my two best-selling applications, nor to those of many other developers.  The guidelines put in place for the Mac App Store disqualify Default Folder X and App Tamer from inclusion in the App Store, despite their popularity and utility.  I’m left to reinvent my products and company (again) as they don’t fit Apple’s vision of what a Mac application should be.  There are numerous developers in my position. We make useful – some would say essential – products that users will now have a more difficult time finding as Apple drives customers and market focus to the Mac App Store.
For small developers with applications that don’t fit the guidelines, is there some avenue that we can pursue for getting exposure on the new Mac App Store?  Some kind of advertising / comarketing that we can participate in to get into an “other great apps” section where users can at least see that our products are available?  If such an “Apple Downloads for the App Store” were an option, I certainly wouldn’t argue with giving Apple a percentage in return for what I anticipate will be a lot of traffic.
I’m running a business, and I understand that you’re running yours.  I know that you need to have restrictions for apps in the Mac App Store in order to ensure that users have a seamless, trouble-free experience and I respect that. It’s what will ultimately make it a big success. But as a developer of applications that won’t be allowed in the store, I’d like to see alternatives that would let me focus on keeping those applications alive and vibrant.
Thanks
- Jon Gotow, President, St. Clair Software
Quick follow-up: It looks like I need to address a few questions based on the tweets I’ve been been getting:
Default Folder X and App Tamer aren’t going away – this affects how much time we spend developing vs. marketing. The more we have to work at getting users to see our products the less time we have to develop them.
Why can’t Default Folder X and App Tamer be in the App Store? Click here to see a PDF of the Mac App Store guidelines. Default Folder X fails to meet item 2.15 (it installs a Scripting Addition) and may also violate item 6.5, since it creates floating windows around file dialogs that could be construed as “changing native user interface elements.” App Tamer violates 2.27 because it asks for your admin password (and needs to).
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37 Responses to “Replacing Apple Downloads with the Mac App Store”

  1. Ted Wood says:

    I think it’ll be important for people to remember that Apple is not walling the Mac garden. They are just enhancing their own distribution of Mac apps and providing added value. It won’t be the only way users can get and install applications.

    Just thinking some examples… beta versions.

    Dropbox is a good example. They offer weekly forum builds of their client. Their public release will probably be available through the Mac App Store, but the forum builds will still be installable manually as is the case today.

    Webkit… you’ll still need to manually download and install Webkit. The big change that I see here is that applications that automated this process will no qualify for inclusion in the App Store.

    Now if Apple changed OS X so that the App Store was the only way to get applications onto your Mac, that would change things. But they’re not doing that.

    The App Store is going to be good for the Mac and Mac users overall.

    • Jon says:

      Beta versions and bleeding edge webkit apps are not targeted at the mass market – the Mac App Store isn’t going to make a big difference there. You’re seeking them out as an advanced user, and will continue to do so even if there’s a consumer-level app store sitting in your Dock.

      We’re talking about software as a business here – I need to sell a lot of licenses to make a living at $15/copy (or perhaps a lower price in the App Store). Where you, the expert user, go to find software doesn’t concern me as much as where the other 98% of Mac consumers go. Getting their attention will be much harder when they can get many of the apps they need quickly and easily from the Mac App Store. Many won’t look further, or even know that entire categories of applications exist that could be very useful to them.

      The Mac App Store will sell more Macs and will get a lot of users up and running quickly with new software – I do think that’s a good thing. My letter didn’t say it wasn’t – I was merely asking Apple for a means for developers to have access to that same customer base even if their apps don’t meet the App Store criteria.

      • Tharsman says:

        Not sure if that is a completely fair request.

        It is understandable to want the current web-page service active, but you acknowledge it’s understandable why they are taking it down.

        I don’t find it understandable to expect to have access to the same customer base as the new App Store. I may be miss-reading, and you may mean to keep access to the same customer base as you have now with the software web-page.

        You note you have been an apple developer since 1988, this means for 20 years you managed to get exposure without apple’s software page. BTW, as a mac user, I rarely if ever use that page, and am looking forward for the app store.

        Cydia is also preparing to offer their own app store, if they do a good job promoting it, this may be a good alternative to the web-page for software that does not meet Apple’s approval. Heck, the Cydia store may become more popular than the current software page, I didn’t know about the software page until 1 year as a mac owner, and I found it by accident while doing a google search.

        • Jon says:

          It’s probably not a fair request :) But it’s something that I’d like to see implemented in some form.

          As you point out, I’ve gotten exposure for my software for years, even before there were web browsers (scary thought). But the current situation is different because a successful Mac App Store will heavily bias traffic and exposure. That’s new. In the past, Macworld, TUAW, Version Tracker (r.i.p.), MacUpdate and other sites have served as the major portals for developer exposure, but they didn’t have the draw and consumer trust that Apple’s own store will.

          If Apple wants to encourage development of applications that aren’t simple one-click installs or that require more complexity than they want on the App Store (assuming they do), providing an “other software” section that points to 3rd parties would help a lot. Whether it’s a link, a separate page, if it’s free or as paid advertising, etc are details they’ll decide on when that time comes.

  2. Ted Wood says:

    Regarding Jon’s letter, I also think it’s important to realize that Apple is not taking anything away that’s available today. It’s replacing and enhancing what is in place. Developers can still get creative and market and distribute their software however they please. Just means they might have to work harder. Nothing wrong with that. Apple’s software directory has been a free service, but free doesn’t last forever. The big question in my mind is…. did the free directory help to make money for Apple? I doubt it. People don’t browse it and then decide to purchase a Mac. The Mac App Store, on the other hand, will make money in two ways…. through the sale of apps and by being a recognizable anchor since it will very closely mimic the user experience of the iOS App Store, which many people have come to know. So in that regard, it may help to sell more Macs.

    • Jon says:

      By pushing the Mac App Store and defining what can and can’t be sold there, Apple is in fact dictating where the Mac software market is headed, especially for indie developers that don’t have large marketing budgets. The ARE taking something away from a community infrastructure they’ve supported for years. They’ve just become the 800 lb. gorilla in a software ecosystem composed largely of small, independent developers. Mac App Store access will be in the Dock on all Macs and will become the primary way that new Mac users learn about software. Will there be other options? Yes, of course. But how many people will seek out MacUpdate or individual company web sites when _most_ of their needs for new software and automatic updates will be served by the Mac App Store?

      By doing this, Apple makes it much more difficult to develop and market software that doesn’t fit the App Store mold. The upshot is that you as a user will eventually see your software options narrowing. I’m already considering the App Store guidelines for new projects and omitting features that would prevent those products from being sold there. You’re going to miss out on some inventive stuff.

      So yes, developers will have to work harder – or just comply and tailor our software to fit the Apple mold. I’ll continue to swim upstream because I’m hard-headed and I personally want some apps to work the way they do (I can’t live without DFX myself). However, I’ll venture that some features will get pulled or omitted from applications because that’s easier for developers than fighting for visibility in the shadow of the App Store.

    • Ian Davies says:

      “Regarding Jon’s letter, I also think it’s important to realize that Apple is not taking anything away that’s available today.”

      You have actually *read* Jon’s letter, right?

    • Jay Martin says:

      Sorry Ted, that’s EXACTLY what they’re doing. As Jon points out, one of our current marketing mechanisms is closing down – those of us whose apps can’t meet the App Store standards are left without an alternative. It’s important for Apple to realize that there are a non-trivial number of apps out there whose primary function is diametrically opposed to the guidelines. Unless they offer alternative marketing assistance these apps, which are invaluable to the ecosystem, may in fact go away if the developers can’t figure out a marketing scheme that works as well.

      “did the free directory help to make money for Apple?” Yes it did. It showcased all the available apps for the Mac OS ecosystem – a great counter to the “there are no Apps for Macs” argument. Was it direct money? No, but it was a good tool to keep developers around.

      By limiting the co-marketing activities to apps that meet the restrictive guidelines, Apple is basically limiting the market for creative apps, and more importantly potentially losing market share because of the restriction. Everyone goes out of their way to differentiate the market that iOS targets from the market the Mac OS targets – part of that difference is because of software that is innovative for desktop/server applications. Now, many of these will no longer have any marketing support from Apple. We ISVs that specialize in those markets may have no other choice than to move to another platform and that’s a loss for the entire Mac OS ecosystem.

      • Janne says:

        “Sorry Ted, that’s EXACTLY what they’re doing. As Jon points out, one of our current marketing mechanisms is closing down – those of us whose apps can’t meet the App Store standards are left without an alternative.”

        Do you feel that you are entitled to free advertising by Apple? That’s basically what the old Apple Downloads was.

        And you do have alternatives. Rework the app that it can be sold in the App Store, advertise the app yourself. Now if you mean that you no longer have the option for free promotion by Apple, then you might be right.

        • Jon says:

          As I said in my letter, “I certainly wouldn’t argue with giving Apple a percentage in return for what I anticipate will be a lot of traffic.” I’m not asking for free, I’m asking for marketing options to participate in an online venue that I anticipate being very successful.

          As for reworking apps, see my other replies. For some apps, it’s possible to remove the non-complying features. For DFX and App Tamer, it’s really not. They either exist in their guideline-breaking forms or they don’t work at all.

      • Tharsman says:

        I think thats an extremist view, and a very negative one that seems to be heavily biased.

        It is true users may miss out on some software, mainly in system hacks and interface utilities, but they will also for the first time be exposed to a huge catalog of apps by many developers that find their apps fit the mold.

        The mac market will not shrink because of the app store, it will grow (and I think by a lot) and anyone that says otherwise is trying to just scare Apple into knee-jerking.

        At least Jon seems a bit objective on putting money into keeping traffic up. We got to see what happens after the launch. I ponder how many apps will come out for free with in-app advertisements. These may give you a chance to promote directly to app store consumers.

        • Jon says:

          Of course it’s heavily biased – this is a blog :) The Mac market will definitely grow – there’s no doubt about that. But if developers of interface and system utilities can’t get enough traction because fewer people are looking outside of Apple for solutions, we’ll lose those apps or some of their features.

          • Tharsman says:

            Just for the record, I don’t think your post is biased at all. Your letter is one of the most objective arguments I read on how this can negatively impact some developers. My “biased” point was towards claiming lack of software that does not conform apple’s rules will force apple loose market share.

            By the way, the app store rules are not written in stone, although they do take time to change, and this may be a huge amount of time, the current rules are almost a copy of the iOS app store rules. Apple may eventually realize they need a bit more flexibility for desktop apps.

            Also, applications that modify UI, or request root access, may require a lot more testing than just going through a checklist. A lot of software can do very malicious things by going either route, so Apple would have to set in place way more elaborate testing for these apps to make 100% they don’t attempt malicious behavior. I can see them just not being able to do this out the door, and perhaps not for a while.

    • Blain says:

      No, it’s not walling the gardens, but it is walling a very visible portion, and a lot of the innovative out-of-left-field devs will have to be outside that. This may cut off the air supply to a lot of mac devs as they’ll have to spend more time advertising (and thus, less time developing).

      Did this listing lead directly to sales? Possibly not. But it did help dispel the myth of there being no mac software, it did add value the the computer and it did help foster development of mac software and give a reason for people to not jump ship to Windows.

      But as the saying goes, Apple is a company, not your friend. It does suck that the directory will become a walled store. Any serious professional app will also not be present because of the massive 30% cut. A lot of great games wouldn’t fit the App store definition either, but that’s okay, because, well, Steam. And sites like Verson Tracker and MacUpdate existed long before Apple brought out its own, and will continue to be an outlet.

      • Norman says:

        Blain says: “This may cut off the air supply to a lot of mac devs as they’ll have to spend more time advertising (and thus, less time developing).”

        To borrow a quote from Arnold, “Come with me [to the App Store] if you want to live.”

  3. Eric says:

    Apple has discovered a bonanza in computer illiterate users, and is changing their business model to reflect that reality. My only hope is that Apple doesn’t leave behind those more sophisticated users by forcing us to implement workarounds in order to acquire, use or develop software which does not meet the standard of “Make it so braindead simple that the Windows evangelist’s classic idea of the average Mac user can use it (i.e. without having to think).”

  4. Timothy says:

    I don’t think Jon is disagreeing that the App Store is going to be good for the Mac and Mac users *overall*.

    He is pointing out, though, that this “added value” only applies to Mac App Store apps. For apps which aren’t allowed to be distributed through the App Store, it’s going to be much worse than before.

    But maybe there’s a way Apple can make the situation work for “Downloads” apps as it does now, and also be better for App Store apps. Or maybe they have no desire to even try. We just don’t know at this point.

  5. Stephane says:

    “Just thinking some examples… beta versions.”

    Are you serious? The iOS App Store is the store for beta versions that are just labeled 1.0.

    Personally, I had never seen before the App Store so many 1.x version applications just crashing on launch.

  6. Simon says:

    Your letter comes across as a long and whiney rant, mainly because it is and I’m sure will be treated with about as much respect as it deserves. The Apple downloads page isn’t the be all and end all of Mac software catalogues, in fact it’s nowhere near as comprehensive as some other sites like macupdate.com. Apple refuse to even host Hanbrake, which is an extremely popular video transcoder.

    I come across both positive and negative people and you strike me as being extremely negative. Positive people always focus their efforts on working through challenges and finding the best solution whereas all negative people seem to do is whinge and complain.

    • Jon says:

      Hmm – yes, I’m very negative and never work through challenges… That’s how I built up a 20+ year career writing Mac products through all of Apple’s ups and downs, architecture and API changes, and technical hurdles :)

  7. David Warner says:

    @ Jon, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I believe this is a very bad move on Apple’s part, and is a disservice to both developers and end-users.

    @ Simon, look in the mirror sometime. Nobody here needs your unnecessary personal attacks.

    • Jon says:

      I don’t think the Mac App Store is a bad idea – on the contrary, I think it’ll be very good for users (and I’m a user as well as a developer). Forwarding traffic from Apple Downloads to the Mac App Store is also a logical business move – I’m not arguing with Apple’s decisions.

      I think some folks are missing my point here. My goal is to point out to Apple that, from a developer’s perspective, the Mac App Store is not a replacement for the Downloads section of the Apple web site. Some applications will not be represented in the App Store, and I’m asking for Apple’s help in providing us with a means to take advantage of their marketing muscle – as they’ve generally done in the past – for those applications that can’t be made to meet the App Store guidelines but are still very viable and useful products.

  8. TB says:

    Jon, as a user of DFX I am with you 100%. Apple may not be ‘walling the garden’, but it sure sounds like promoting a more closed system to me. Message seems to be, ‘mess with the system or the UI and you’re out.’ Yet so many of the most useful apps have to do exactly that.

    As for some of the replies here, I’m amazed how many people simply don’t get what you’re saying. They might agree with you if they did.

  9. As the developer of a utility that can’t be in the App Store (Magic Launch), I totally agree with everything you say in this post. I understand the reasons for Apple’s restrictions, but at the same time it seems to me that those restrictions do not always align with the user’s best interest.

    I have an idea for something that could counter-balence the App Store for apps like ours… but I’m not sure if the plan is realistic.

  10. I hope that you continue to develop useful UI extensions like Default Folder X despite challenges of the Apple App Store guidelines. Your DFX software saves me time every day and is one of the best values for dollars i have spent on Mac Software. I hope Apple does not go too far in dumbing down user interface with next version of OS X. I love my iPad and iPhone and my 3 year old daughter does too but I don’t want my desktop or laptop to share the same touch interface as a default.

  11. I’m quite surprised that apple download page is your main source of traffic, coz personally I find it useless :-)

    Considering your (great!) apps are a bit of hack to OS X, I understand that apple won’t let them in the appstore nor will they ever promote it in any way. Therefore you cannot expect them to “show you alternatives”. It would just be against what makes apple great, wouldn’t it?

    But your apps are generally targeting “power users” – and I believe it’s just a matter of time till alternative appstores for power users or even hackers will launch (mupromo? macheist? lifehacker? cydia?…). Once the dust settles, there will remain some 3-4 major alternative appstores and I actually believe they will be HUGE boost to your sales ultimately. Maybe you will even thank apple at the end of the day for pushing this distribution model :-)

    • Jon says:

      Apple Downloads isn’t our main source of traffic – but the App Store could be :) DFX is admittedly an outlier (though interestingly, it uses only approved API’s). App Tamer is a standard app that just needs admin privileges to see how much CPU other apps are using, and therefore can’t be in the App Store. I’m looking forward to the App Store as a vehicle for other apps, and you’re right, the alternate stores could be a great new sales vehicle – the coming months will be exciting :)

  12. Walt French says:

    I get this is an unwelcome change for you. And while I wouldn’t have used the word “capricious” if *I* were trying to get Apple to come my way, I think you are right in trying to find a way to minimize the effect on your business.

    But I think that if you spend more than a bit of time fighting this change, you’ll be wasting your valuable time on a lost cause.

    Apple occasionally gets forced into reversing direction, but most of their changes spring from a purpose that is mostly unmatched in any industry. Call it the March of History or whatever: Apple’s vision of the Mac as an appliance that you fiddle with as little as you mess with your coffee maker is long-standing; it has been fabulously successful for them of late; it has spawned spinoffs that would have been impossible without their control of the development ecosystem; and they still have fresh in their minds, the counter-example of how a couple of major developers nearly put Apple out of its misery by standing on its oxygen hose.

    Apple may, or may *not* know specifically where these particular restrictions are heading, that justifies the angst to people like you. But at least in principle, you know that they have a vision that’ll be more easily supported if system hacks in general do NOT have to be supported in the future.

    PS: right after I opened this page, one of MY installed hacks crashed (per CrashReporter). The approximately 50 Safari windows I’d opened prior to getting on my morning commute train (and hence, off the grid) all resized down to a useless pile in the lower left of my screen. I’ve burned thru a couple of hours of Genius time over the years, most recently due to a long-forgotten system mod that erratically crashed on startup after I migrated my old system onto my new MBP. Yes, I DO want and use products *like* yours, but I consider them for “Expert Mode” only and find that they often cause as much grief to an experienced user as the benefit that they purportedly provide. Removing them from a free, and implicitly sponsored “open to all” store? Perfectly consistent with my expectations.

  13. Peter Sichel says:

    Apple is correct to recognize that the Mac App Store offers a way to create more value. But their letter to developers asserts:

    “Because we believe the Mac App Store will be the best destination for users to discover, purchase, and download your apps, we will no longer offer apps on the Mac OS X Downloads site.”

    This statement is subjective and depends on who “your apps” is referring to and what the user is looking for. The Mac App Store is open to self contained productivity and entertainment apps that may access the Internet. Based on Apple’s published guidelines, the Mac App Store IS NOT open to system utilities, disk utilities, network utilities, software that attempts to enhance the user interface of existing system facilities, or most plug-ins including browser, Email, and Address Book plug-ins.

    Why? Placing code or resources in any shared area or requesting privilege escalation is prohibited.

    In order for Apple’s assertion above to be broadly true, Apple would need to offer a “Mac Utility Store” or other venue for applications that cannot meet the Mac App Store restrictions. This would include many award winning tools like Disk Warrior, Super Duper!, Default Folder X, 1Password, and other system maintenance utilities and plug-ins. Ironically, many Macworld Editor’s Choice Award winning products are not eligible to appear in the Mac App Store. To say the Mac App Store is the “best destination for users to discover, purchase, and download your apps” is understandable marketing speak, but it’s not the whole story.

    I understand the hype machine can only focus on one thing at a time, but I hope Apple will consider expanding the scope of their Mac App Store(s) to truly become the “best destination” to discover great software.

  14. Dan Engel says:

    I’m sorry to hear about the lost revenue. That is a huge blow to your business and while you have experience with having to reinvent yourself based on Apple’s whims, it’s still a huge pain. I think part of the problem is that both consumers and developers have an attitude of acceptance toward Apple that is unparalleled. What other company is allowed to get away with generally doing whatever it wants to their customer and developer base irrespective of the damage it causes them with such minimal complaint and lack of outrage in response? Look at how differently Facebook’s decisions are reacted to by its market and how FB has in some cases had to cater to those reactions. Or Walmart as a non-tech example. While Apple is a very unique company, it relies on products and profits from its developers and market to exist and grow, same as everyone else, so if its points of differentiation and/or its profits are threatened at any point, they will listen.

    So be it for the moment, it is what it is now. But I think developers are making a big mistake when they assume that being listed in the Mac store means a replacement of Apple download store income, or riches of any kind for that matter. Like the IPhone store, there will be a few winners but most apps, good and bad, will get lost in the shuffle amongst the thousands of other apps. And it won’t help that competitors’ products will be listed alongside yours, easily available for comparison by users. This is such a different experience from your own web store where it’s your world and it’s all about your offering. And of course, where you keep over 90% of your revenue for yourself.

    To those who have been badly damaged by the recent Apple decisions: this is an opportunity to diversify and reduce your dependence on Apple for your business’s health. Improve your web store to the max, optimize your in-app embedded store. And, most importantly, build more of your own partnerships and distribution channels online. Do this well and you will be well positioned the next time around, and you’ll sleep better at night knowing you’re in control of your business health, no longer having a third party corporation with its own interests in mind in charge of so much of your business’s future. Use the mental energy you’ve been putting into worrying the new Mac store is the holy grail full of riches you’re going to miss out on (which will prove false for most developers) to forge a new path. No doubt it is the harder path today but it will pay off and it will be the easier path in time.

    Dan Engel, CEO
    FastSpring E-Commerce

  15. loudmouth says:

    Jon,

    If it’s any consolation I heard of, downloaded and installed DFX a few years back not via Apple’s downloads section but after reading a review on macworld.com. In fact other third party utilities I use I’ve not found via the downloads section either.

    As the Apple juggernaught rolls on, I must admit I’ve been a bit miffed watching the love-hate relationship with developers. MacOSX, iPhone and iPad ultimately become greater products because of innovative third party developers like yourself. I understand the convenience of Apples downloads page for both developers and users, but it’s not the only avenue available. The web’s a big place.

  16. [...] Replacing Apple Downloads with the Mac App Store by Jon Gotow on The St. Clair Software blog [...]

  17. Shunil says:

    Time to cue up the Apple 1984 commercial but with Apple on the big screen. ;)

    Good luck.

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