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A Tale Of Two Mac App Stores

In our previous Mac App Store coverage we focused on how, among other things, it will be very likely that Apple won't allow the release of "trials" and "demos" in the new Store for Mac. As Mac developers also noticed and wrote in blog posts, it's unknown at this point whether Apple will introduce new rules for volume licensing, educational discounts and other purchase systems Mac developers have been using for years on their websites.

The fears and doubts of Mac developers are worth our consideration as Apple has a huge deal on its hands, and nobody wants to see Apple "screw up" with an App Store on the Mac. So let's just consider this: what if Apple doesn't change the rules and understands that the Mac is ultimately different from iOS when it comes to customer experience? What if the first version of the Mac App Store that will roll out in January will be a simple "copy" of the one seen on iOS? In that case, there's a chance for developers' websites to stay in the game and become the real alternative to the Mac App Store, and not a "system from the past" headed to disappear.

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Developers could start distributing apps in the Mac App Store and point customers to their website to have access to 7-day or 30-day trial versions. In order to keep customers aware of the fact that there's an app to purchase, maybe 7-day trials would be best. After that, the user would have to open the App Store and click on the Buy button. Developers wouldn't have to handle purchase backends anymore, as they'd only need to make sure the user tries the app for seven days. The problem is, will developers be allowed to explicitly mention on the App Store description page a trail version of the same app is available at the developer's website? I don't think so.

If you need a quick reminder of the Review Guidelines about trial versions and descriptions:

Apps that are "beta", "demo", "trial", or "test" versions will be rejected

Apps that require license keys or implement their own copy protection will be rejected

Apps that present a license screen at launch will be rejected

Apps may not use update mechanisms outside of the App Store

Apps with descriptions not relevant to the application content and functionality will be rejected

There's no way trials and demos can make it through the App Store. But there's also the possibility mentions of demo versions won't make it either.

So developers would have to count on users' curiosity to gain traffic to their websites and tell them that before purchase, a demo version is available. But think about it: you see a new Mac app, you're not a geek who's obsessed with app websites, you have some iTunes credit left, there's no mention of a demo version...do you click on the developer's website link or go buy the app right away?

Exactly. While this could be great for developers (instant money!), it would still make a lot more developers who feel the need of offering a demo version of their app upset. Mac apps aren't fart apps sold at .99 cents. Do you think people like my dad will open iTunes, see OmniFocus priced at $50 and click on Buy in two seconds? Maybe in that case he'll click on the more info link - there are many different user cases and exceptions to consider. But the lack of demo / trial support in iTunes is starting to be a real issue for Apple and the developer community.

The worst scenario would be: "simple apps" are sold in the Mac App Store, "real apps" are available on the developers' website. For as much as the Mac App Store is a great opportunity and I'm sure it'll be huge among consumers, I can imagine some developers, frustrated either with Apple's restrictions or lack of trial support, will end up selling software only on their websites. And what if the trend takes off and even more developers stop selling software on the Store in exchange of more control?

That didn't happen on the iPhone because it simply can't, but on OS X developers have more choices. And so far, they've done just fine without a Mac App Store.

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