What's wrong with the Mac App Store

Why the Mac App Store isn't working for me, and why it might not be great for you.

Mac App Store: still a work in progress.
Mac App Store: still a work in progress. Apple

The Mac App Store launched less than one month ago, to promising fanfare and download stats .

I was extremely excited about the Mac App Store, well before it even existed. In fact, I was dreaming of the existence of just such a thing over a year ago. In my mind, it was the beginning of a fusion between Apple's iOS and its venerable OSX operating system--perhaps, even, the beginnings of the inevitable crossover between portable smartphones/tablets and "regular" computers. I liked the idea of an App Store's convenience, its one-stop shopping, and its consolidation of software updates.

And yet, I haven't used it much at all.

Why? Well, to be honest, some reasons are personal. Others are logical. But, maybe, they point to what's broken about the App Store for Mac thus far. Some of these issues might simply be the result of the App Store being stranded in Snow Leopard, an early rollout that was perhaps initially intended for deeper integration into Apple's next OS X, Lion. Others might resolve as the App Store has more time to mature. Still, here's what's bugging me so far.

The land of $80 apps
Some apps in the App Store are free. Others cost nearly $100. Compared with the 99-cent economy of the iPhone App Store or even the sub-$10 iPad App Store, the Mac App Store is all over the map in terms of pricing. That's because many apps in the store are software also available in boxes--professional applications, which have traditionally cost a considerable amount of money. Other apps are ports of iOS hits, such as Flight Control. A great example of the disconnect is SketchBook Pro. On the iPad, it cost me $9.99. On the Mac, an "Express" version is free, while the full version costs a whopping $79.99. I might be tempted to drop as much as $10 on an art app to inspire me to doodle, but there's no way I'm impulse-buying at $80. While the free version is nice enough for many , the extreme cost of a "premium" app is jarring compared with the iOS App Store economy.

Missing apps
It's easy to name games and apps that aren't in the Mac App Store--so much so that it's painfully apparent that the App Store is only one avenue for any Mac owner. So what's wrong with choice? Nothing, except that software updates no longer are easily consolidated through a single channel, making a chunk of the App Store's appeal useless. Between Steam, the App Store, and Apple's own Software Update utility, I'm still stuck checking multiple sources for updates. Missing apps also means that any attempt at app research in the App Store is an incomplete process. I'll always need to check other sources, and if I make Google my first stop instead of the App Store, chances are the App Store will lose my purchase.

On a computer, my browser is the ultra-app
The concept of apps on smart devices, initially, was to slice up discrete functions that mobile browsers and operating systems just couldn't handle easily. On a full-fledged computer, most app functions can be handled amply by browser-based cloud computing. For instance, photo editing, word processing, social networking, video streaming--these are all browser-based for me, but app-based on my iOS device. On a computer, there are fewer "killer apps." Meanwhile, full-sized applications (also considered "apps" in the App Store) have deeper functionality, but higher prices (see above).

One app to fit them all
Is it too much to ask for more developers to finally offer Universal Apps that are one purchase across the iPhone, iPad, and Mac? I don't want to buy Flight Control three times. Developers might tell me to suck it up, but at the very least there should be a simple account-based method of scanning all purchased apps across all devices, along with cross-compatibility.

I need an App App
iTunes is far overloaded as a syncing solution for iOS devices. It makes more sense for all apps (iPhone/iPod/iPad) to be managed in a separate app. An App App. I want this app to allow me to delete apps I don't use much, and re-download them easily when needed, without trying to remember or guess whether I've purchased them before. I want simplicity. Right now, it's very odd that the Mac App Store runs outside of iTunes, while the iOS App Store on the Mac runs within it.

The best App Store is the one you have with you--and that may not be your laptop
My dad was in the hospital recently. When I was visiting him after work, I brought my iPad and my iPhone with me. They're lighter. I browse apps on the iPad and iPhone because these devices are on me almost all the time. Meanwhile, my MacBook stays at home. In fact, honestly, even when I'm at home, my MacBook gets opened less and less frequently--only for certain tasks. The App Store you use is the one you have on you, and how many of us keep our laptops close to our person?

That's not to say the Mac App Store doesn't have some aspects that do work quite well--easy browsing of apps can be appealing to Mac newcomers, and there are plenty of free apps to make a thrifty window-shopper satisfied. These are extremely early days for the Mac App Store, and hopefully many of the above issues will be settled by this time next year. Then again, hope only takes a techie so far.

How are you feeling about the Mac App Store so far--happy, angry, or utterly disinterested?

 

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