Good news for bank managers everywhere: impulse program purchasing is now on the Mac in the form of the Mac App Store.
Download the latest OS X 10.6.6 update, and once you've rebooted you can launch the Store in two ways: from the new Dock icon, or by clicking on the Apple menu and selecting App Store. What you'll see looks like the iTunes App Store, albeit without the iTunes interface elements.
We encountered a few teething problems – weird layouts on the main page and mysterious "unknown error" reports that turned out to be because we hadn't agreed to the new T&Cs – but other than that the Mac App Store worked quickly and smoothly.
The process of finding and acquiring apps works just like it does on iOS devices: there are buttons for Featured, Top Charts and Categories at the top, together with an icon for Purchases and one for Updates, and there's a search box too.
ORGANISED: As with the iOS App Store, everything is organised into categories. There's already a huge selection
Buying works like any other iTunes purchase, with the App Store asking for your iTunes ID when you click on the Buy button.
As with the iTunes App Store each program has its own page, with reviews and ratings as well as a panel of information about the program, its age rating and its publisher. Many of the pages appear unfinished, though, so for example the Twitter for Mac page doesn't have any product information; just a screenshot.
QUICK LOAD: Apps appear in the dock sporting a progress bar until installation is complete. Getting the new Twitter client takes seconds
There are some nice touches. The App Store knows what's on your system, so if you already own iPhoto it shows that as Installed (and presumably that means it'll be monitored by the Updates panel), and that applies to third-party apps if they're available from the App Store. Installation works in much the same way as it does on iOS devices, too: the icon appears in your dock with a progress bar, bouncing when it's finished.
If your Mac is a family Mac you'll be pleased to discover that OS X's Parental Controls have been updated to take account of the App Store: in the Apps > Limit Applications bit of the preference pane there's a new Allow App Store Apps drop-down that lets you prevent the kids from opening age-inappropriate apps. You can also disable the App Store altogether.
ADULTS ONLY: OS X's parental controls have been updated to keep the kids away from apps and the App Store
The most interesting thing about the App Store to our eyes is the aggressive pricing: the individual iWork and iLife apps are cheaper than you might expect, so for example iMovie is £8.99 and Pages is £11.99.
That's great for two reasons: it puts such programs in the impulse-buy territory, and it enables you to pay only for the programs you need – so you can have Pages without Numbers, or iPhoto without Garageband.
AFFORDABLE: Apple's pricing its apps very aggressively here. Twelve quid for Pages is great value for money
Apple isn't the only one offering decent prices: Autodesk's SketchBook Pro is £17.99 (there's a free Express version too) and many apps are below the £10 mark. The inevitable Angry Birds is £2.99.
It'll be interesting to see how this pans out, because there has been plenty of grumbles about the pricing race to the bottom on iOS apps – although it's possible that cheap apps may do more damage to free and open source software by removing the "how much?" factor from paid-for programs.
Teething troubles aside, the App Store is pretty much what we all expected: an easy and convenient way to spend all your wages on things you didn't know you needed.
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