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Five Years of Mac App Store

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the Mac App Store, which launched on January 6, 2011. The iOS App Store, which launched in 2008, was already huge success in 2011 – a success that continues today. The Mac App Store, announced at Apple's 'Back to the Mac' event in late 2010, offered the alluring promise of revitalising the Mac app market with easier access to customers, and, it was hoped, greater financial success for developers.

Despite some minor technical issues and a few missing features (e.g. Game Center, In-App Purchases), the launch of the Mac App Store went, for the most part, really well. Apple even issued a press release a few days later, announcing that in the first 24 hours there were over a million downloads from the Mac App Store, which had 1,000 apps available at launch. Developers were also pretty happy and there were early success stories like Pixelmator making $1 million in the first 20 days, Evernote reporting a 1,800% increase in sign-ups via their Mac app, and another developer went from selling less than 10 copies a day to selling 1,000 copies a day on average in the week following the Mac App Store launch.

Then, when OS X 10.7 Lion launched in July for $29.99, it went on sale on the Mac App Store (although Apple did later offer Lion on a thumb drive). Apple announced that they saw over 1 million downloads of Lion in the first 24 hours, and by October there had been over 6 million copies downloaded. Lion also brought some notable improvements to the Mac App Store such as In-App Purchases, push notifications, and delta updates.

2011 ended with Apple announcing in December that over 100 million apps had been downloaded from the Mac App Store. That would be the last time that Apple reveals download numbers for the Mac App Store.

Something I skipped over was that Apple announced new Sandboxing requirements for apps on the Mac App Store in 2011. Initially Apple had imposed a deadline of November 2011, but ultimately extended the deadline to March 2012 and then June 1, 2012. This was a tumultuous period that resulted in a lot of consternation from many developers and customers. Because of the limitations imposed by Apple with Sandboxing, it also marked the beginning of developers having to pull their apps from the Mac App Store, or deciding it was just not worth the effort to find workarounds to satisfy Apple's requirements and remain on the Mac App Store.

Ultimately, the transition to Sandboxing occurred, and for the most part, customers didn't notice many changes. But I can't help but feel (albeit as merely an observer of the Mac developer community) that the Sandboxing period of the Mac App Store's history was a sour experience for many developers and marks a turning point for the Mac App Store.

In the years since 2012, about the most newsworthy events that took place relating to the Mac App Store were the announcements from high profile developers that they were removing their apps from the Mac App Store (a few listed below). There's also the remarkable events of November 2015 which saw apps downloaded from the Mac App Store break because a security certificate expired.

But that's not to say the Mac App Store has been a failure - it hasn't. Just two months ago Readdle launched PDF Expert for Mac, and thanks to some great marketing and a Mac App Store editorial feature, their app rocketed to the top of the Mac App Store charts – and they're happy they offered their app on the Mac App Store.

High Profile Departures

Sketch

On December 1, 2015, Bohemian Coding announced that Sketch would leave the Mac App Store.

There are a number of reasons for Sketch leaving the Mac App Store—many of which in isolation wouldn’t cause us huge concern. However as with all gripes, when compounded they make it hard to justify staying: App Review continues to take at least a week, there are technical limitations imposed by the Mac App Store guidelines (sandboxing and so on) that limit some of the features we want to bring to Sketch, and upgrade pricing remains unavailable.

BBEdit

At the Çingleton conference in October 2014, Rich Siegel of Bare Bones Software announced that the next version of BBEdit would not be sold on the Mac App Store (via Six Colors).

The end result? A lot of soul searching and a realization that being in the Mac App Store just wasn’t worth it for Siegel or Bare Bones, that the added stress and frustration and everything else just wasn’t counterbalanced by the benefit of being in the premier storefront for Mac apps.

RapidWeaver 6

Realmac decided launch RapidWeaver 6 outside of the Mac App Store, and even today (over a year later) RapidWeaver 6 isn't available on the Mac App Store.

RapidWeaver 6 is our biggest app with a incredibly loyal following, and we’ve been making sure that RapidWeaver 6 is fully ready for the Mac App Store. However, given the size of the launch, and our desire to ensure that customers are able to easily contact us if they need help with their move to version 6, we’re not going to be offering RapidWeaver 6 on the Mac App Store just yet.

Coda

In May 2014, Panic announced that it would not be releasing Coda 2.5 in the Mac App Store due to sandboxing difficulties – despite noting that Apple "spent a lot of energy assisting us with ideas, workarounds, and temporary exemptions".

As we continued to work on Coda 2.5—a significant update that we’re really excited about—we continued to discover new corners of the app that presented challenges under sandboxing. Coda, to be fair, is a very complex developer tool and is something of a sandboxing worst-case scenario.

Two years prior to this announcement Panic had changed the way Coda worked in order to comply with the Mac App Store sandboxing requirements.

TextExpander

With the arrival of the TextExpander 4 and the deadline of sandboxing on the Mac App Store, Smile had little choice but release TextExpander 4 outside of the Mac App Store. (Via Macworld)

But even ignoring these high profile departures, there are countless other examples of Mac apps that have left the Mac App Store – or never even bothered with it. Dan Counsell has a great list of 70 world-class apps that exist outside of the Mac App Store.

The Key (Developer) Complaints About the Mac App Store

For those of you who might not be aware of some of the key complaints from developers about the Mac App Store, here are the ones I hear most frequently:

  • Updates take too long to get through the App Review process.
  • There are too many limitations imposed on developers by the Mac App Store guidelines (e.g. Sandboxing)
  • TestFlight (since it was acquired by Apple) was available to internal testers since iOS 8 and was opened to external testers in early 2015. All Apple has said is that it is "coming soon" to Mac App Store apps.
  • App Store analytics is "coming soon" (since WWDC 2014) to the Mac App Store.
  • App Bundles, which launched on the iOS App Store with iOS 8, aren't available for the Mac App Store.
  • Developers can't offer trials or upgrade pricing.
  • Developers can't respond to customer reviews
  • A general sense that Apple has let the Mac App Store fall into a state of decay, as a result of a mix of the above factors and things such as the November 2015 expired certificate debacle which broke Mac App Store apps.

More details: Furbo.org, Helftone, Michael Tsai.

Apple Design Award Winners

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

Where to Now?

When Sketch left the Mac App Store, John Gruber wrote this:

The Mac App Store is rotting, at least for productivity software. There’s no other way to put it. If this hasn’t set off alarm bells within Apple, something is very wrong.

He's right. Apple has let the Mac App Store stagnate and become a second class citizen to the iOS App Store and too many developers are leaving or avoiding the Mac App Store. When important apps leave the Mac App Store, it makes the store as a whole less enticing and customers have one less reason to open the Mac App Store.

Just how often do you open the Mac App Store?

But there's some hope that Apple has taken some notice of the Mac App Store. Just last month Apple announced some executive team changes, including giving Phil Schiller leadership responsibility for the App Store "across all platforms". Schiller is now responsible for "nearly all developer related functions at Apple".

Let's hope that Schiller and his team at Apple take some meaningful steps to bring the Mac App Store back up to parity with the iOS App Store and give developers confidence that they're still invested in the future of the Mac App Store.

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