Is the Mac App Store an opportunity for devs - or a threat?

Experienced Mac users know where to find software: there's a thriving ecosystem of mailorder companies, download services and brick-and-mortar retail shops that offer Mac applications and utilities, not to mention Apple's own burgeoning network of retail stores.

"On mobile, prior to the iOS App Store, things were an utter mess. On Mac OS X, there's been a thriving ecosystem of third-party developers for a decade," says Kafasis.

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New Mac users are a different story, however. With half of all Mac buyers completely new to the platform, many new Mac users may not be aware of the best places – both on and offline – to buy their software. The question then is: will the Mac App Store be the answer? owner Tuncer Deniz expects that the Mac App Store will be favoured by new users, while veteran Mac owners may find the experience a bit dull. "This will give Apple a huge advantage," he says. "Sound a lot like Microsoft, doesn't it? Experienced users know where to get their software and I would imagine a vanilla-type, restricted store might be a bit too bland for power Mac users," Deniz adds.

Mark Rein's company, Epic Games, doesn't have any products headed to the Mac App Store right away. But it has recently made waves in the iOS App Store with the release of Infinity Blade, an action/RPG game based on the Unreal Engine. If history repeats itself with the Mac App Store, Rein thinks it's only a matter of time before the Mac App Store makes a huge mark on the Mac gaming ecosystem.

"It's going to be a catalyst for Mac gaming to come roaring back," Rein predicts. "Granted I don't know how long that will take; it won't be an overnight thing, it'll just take time. Customers will see all the apps in the Mac App Store, and they'll be enthusiastic and more receptive to buying them."

Broad appeal?

Kafasis expects that the Mac App Store's biggest appeal will be to new users. "That said, plenty of experienced Mac users don't know much about buying third-party software either."

Mariner Software's Wray predicts that the Mac App Store will especially appeal to 'switchers' – first-time Mac owners who have exclusively used Windows on their PCs in the past. "To have a one-stop shop to find, buy, install, and update approved Mac software? That will seem like a dream come true compared to the vast and confusing software market they call 'Windows.'"

"The real appeal is for folks who don't know the first thing about online software shopping, and for whom the blessing of Apple on both the purchasing process and the catalogue of titles, will make it a very safe and comfortable experience," says Red Sweater's Jalkut.

Siegel sees Apple's Mac OS X Download site closure as "a pretty clear signal that existing Mac users will be expected to use the Mac App Store. At the same time, the Mac App Store will be the only means that most new Mac users will know about, so it's clearly intended to pick up a lot of business from new users, as well."

Ease of purchase

"It's not exactly difficult to find Mac software as long as you know what you're looking for, but the Mac app store will make things a whole lot easier, and the customer will get immediate gratification," says Pangea's Greenstone. Greenstone thinks that experienced Mac users may prefer other channels they're more comfortable with, but he's not so quick to discount the sheer convenience of having a way to buy software at your fingertips.

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"Anyone will tell you it's hard to not buy through iTunes when it's just so simple and quick." Clearly, the majority of Mac developers are very interested to see how well the Mac App Store rollout works, warts and all. And with OS X Lion round the corner, Apple is pressing ahead with its expansion.

"I think what almost everyone needs to accept is the fact that the Mac App Store is a live program," says Wray, "meaning, there will surely be tweaks to how things are done if the demand from customers or developers is strong enough."

Getting on the Mac App Store is only the first step, says Jalkut. Developers also need to deliver products that are worth buying. "The app store promises incredible benefits of exposure, but that by itself is worthless if you don't have a great sales proposition," he warns.

"It's hard to say how it will change sales expectations in the long term – time will tell," says Greenstone. "It can't hurt, that's for sure, but how much it helps will depend on if prices hold and how much competition there is."

Ballooning market

"The easier it is for users to purchase, the more they will buy," reckons Kafasis. "Couple that with increased access to tens of millions of Mac users, and the Mac App Store can be very good for anyone who's included. As developers, it certainly has our attention, even if it doesn't yet have our applications."

And while Deniz recognizes a formidable opponent in the Mac App Store, he sees opportunity, as well: "We expect to prosper in an environment where more Mac games are available. Trying to figure out how to compete with Apple is the key question. As [American business tycoon] Lee Iacocca once said, 'Lead, follow, or get out of the way.'"