Apple's Mac App Store to open January 6

Apple finally announced the date its new Mac App Store will open, but controversy still remains about some key prohibitions for developer submissions to the store.

Apple introduced its Mac App Store plans as part of its preview of Lion (the next iteration of Mac OS X) during its Back to the Mac event in October. Although the Mac App Store will be part of Apple’s next OS release (slated for the middle of next year), it will be available to users of the current release (Snow Leopard) as well. Today, Apple announced that the Mac App Store will open for business on January 6th, coinciding with the first day of CES in Las Vegas (something that I’m pretty sure isn’t a coincidence).

The Mac App Store concept borrows heavily form the company’s App Store for its iOS mobile devices and will offer easy browsing, one-click purchase/download/install, automatic update notification, and easy app removal. All Mac developers are welcome to submit applications to Apple to be listed in the App Store and can set prices for their software. Like the iOS App Store, Apple will take a 30% cut of all sales as a fee for things like maintaining the store and handling payment transactions.

The Mac App Store hasn’t been without controversy, however. As with the iOS App Store, Apple will be reviewing all submissions. The company has multiple reasons for review including ensuring apps are stable, that they function as described, that they are appropriate for the age rating provided by the developer, and that they don’t violate any laws. The biggest sticking point in the review process is ensuring that they meet Apple’s terms and conditions. This excludes any sexually explicit apps (including outright porn and things Apple views as too racy). Apple’s censorship of the iOS App Store and its sometimes inconsistent rulings on similar apps have long been a criticized – largely without any change in policy.

Another point of contention, specific to the Mac App Store is that beta releases and feature-limited demo versions of apps are being excluded. Excluding betas makes a lot of sense – Apple wants this to be an easy and perfect user experience in terms of purchase and use, something beta software isn’t going to provide.

The prohibition on demo versions, however, seems utterly bizarre considering many iOS apps are available in free demo or lite versions for users to try before deciding to fork over the few dollars for the full version. It’s a good marketing approach for developers and a great way for users to try out an app before spending money. Since Mac apps are likely to be more expensive than their iOS counterparts (just as iPad and universal iPad/iPhone apps are typically a little bit more than iPhone/iPod touch apps).

There is one major difference between the Mac and iOS App Stores: the Mac will remain an open platform where users can download and/or purchase any Mac software they want and install the time honored way of using an Installer package or simply dragging an application to the Applications folder on their hard drive. Certainly, big titles and suites (Office for Mac, Photoshop, Quark, etc.) aren’t likely to move to a strictly App Store distribution model (if they make their way to the App Store at all). This makes Apple’s restrictions a bit… well less restrictive. For smaller developers, however, being in the App Store may be critical to success as it will likely become a primary go-to for many Mac users as opposed to web-based application directories.

That said, there are a number of good sources for Mac software on the Internet including competing “app store” solutions like Bodega and the upcoming Cydia for Mac. For details on all these options (plus an in-depth look at Cydia and its potential as a Mac software resource similar to the iOS Cydia repository of apps not approved by Apple for users who have jailbroken their iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch), check out my post on these topics from earlier this week.

What’s your take? Will the Mac App Store kill off smaller developers if they don’t adhere to Apple’s guidelines? Are you eagerly waiting to start browsing the App Store once it’s released? Let us know in the comments.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfaas.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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