评述苹果Mac App Store发展现状及开发商看法
苹果iPhone及其他iOS设备中的App Store绝对可以称得上是成功之作（游戏邦注：目前下载量已达150亿次）。仅仅三年的时间里，该商店中的应用数量从500急速飞升至40多万。Mac OS X 10.6.6也含有其App Store功能。这种新销售模式有个良好的开端，系统发布首日便获得了100万的下载量。
苹果的竞争者同样也从应用商店中获利。自2008年苹果发布iPhone App Store之日起，其他手机操作系统运营商（游戏邦注：如谷歌、惠普、微软和诺基亚）也相继发布其应用商店。据报道，这些商店都为这些运营公司带来盈利。
业界很容易遗忘的是，苹果并非应用商店概念的创造者。尽管现在苹果是桌面应用的主流应用商店供应商，但该概念也出现在其他桌面操作系统中。比如，Canonical的Ubuntu Linux让用户可以直接通过菜单栏访问各种应用，省去用户寻找软件的烦恼。谷歌在Chrome Store的Web应用中也采用了相同的做法。
而且，有传言称微软正计划在Windows 8发布时添加应用商店。微软已发布用于Office 365的特别应用商店，尽管这个商店只适用于Office 365特别应用和服务。与苹果一样，微软也有庞大的用户基础，注册Windows Live ID的应用购买者也非常多。微软肯定会在这方面有所行动，问题在于它是否会避开苹果的Mac App Store还是会提前发布Windows 7 App Store。
应用商店之类的集成式软件商店已存在将近十年之久。2002年，Linspire的Michael Robertson就制造了Click-n-Run软件商店GUI。自此之后，Linux就开始运营Red Hat Package Manager和Advanced Package Tool，支持在线操作系统和应用的安装。随后，Handango之类的商店逐渐兴起，出售曾经增长迅速的便携式PC市场的可下载应用。
相比之下，Steve Jobs最初避开iPhone原生应用，声称通过HTTP传输的Web 2.0应用会提供所有手机用户需要的功能。但是在2007年苹果出售iPhone后数周时间内，黑客便解锁了设备并以名为“Installer”的程序导入Linux的APT，让用户可以直接在iPhone上安装原生应用。
不久之后，iPhone和开源开发者Jay Freeman发布Cydia应用安装器（游戏邦注：就是后来的Cydia商店），这个开源工具最终于2009年成为苹果应用销售的竞争者。苹果显然认识到了原生应用的价值，于是在2008年7月发布iPhone App Store。iPhone应用开发蓬勃发展，去年苹果发布iPad后，多数iPhone应用马上被移植到iPad上。
苹果Mac App Store对开发商的主要吸引力在于，目前共有2亿个苹果ID账户，而且绑定信用卡，用户单击便可购买。售价60美元的图片编辑工具Pixelmater的开发商意识到了这一点，在Mac App Store发布20天内就获得了100万美元的收入。
开发商可以自己设定价格，虽然许多应用的价格都在10美元以下，但仍有少数应用的售价高达数百美元。但是，苹果削减了Mac App Store中自有产品Apple Remote和Aperture应用的价格，以此来暗示App Store用户选择较低价格的产品。苹果还将原本售价80美元的iWork包裹拆分称各个售价20美元的应用来单卖。
但是，价格低廉并不一定意味着开发商的净利润减少了。与实体零售店或邮购销售等实体产品销售相比，使用App Store可以使开发商的销售成本降低数个百分点。至少对那些不是很昂贵的程序而言，使用应用商店可以省下大笔成本。SmileSoftware创始人Greg Scown说道：“使用App Store后我们可以获得更多盈利。从本质上来说，我们认为App Store会取代零售渠道，其销售面比零售要广，但仍无法替代Web渠道。”
苹果的iOS App Store吸引了大量开发新手的关注，他们有机会在开发上花更多时间，而不是销售。苹果同样也能够从中获利，Mac开发者处理销售循环、产品销售、连载更新和DRM的时间大量减少。然而，苹果此类销售过程并没有取代广告。Scown说道：“App Store并非市场营销的替代品，你仍然需要做广告、培养社群并提供用户支持。”
30%的抽成似乎并不适合那些售价较高和比较复杂的应用。在TechRadar的采访中，Rogue Amoeba首席执行官Paul Kafasis抱怨称：“对开发商而言，提供更多功能需要耗费许多时间和精力。但苹果对复杂应用的销售并不需要做额外的工作，这种恒定的抽成比例显然不合理。”Adobe和微软等大型应用开发商似乎也颇有微词，在Mac App Store运营的5个月的时间里，这两家公司的产品仍未进入应用商店。
尽管盒装软件的销售渠道渐渐逝去，在线销售也分化为两种方式。首先，Mac应用开发商可以脱离Mac App Store来销售应用（游戏邦注：同理可知，iOS开发商也是如此）。SmileSoftware的Scown说道：“有些顾客喜欢应用商店安装模式带来的便利性，但有些人喜欢直接从我们这里购买家庭套装、用户组售价等各种版本和选项。对于更新的软件而言，用户可以直接从我们这里购买到最新版本，而苹果App Store对软件的审核需要耗费1周以上的时间。”
Mac App Store中也有许多很怪事。商店不能用来更新先前的App Store版本的应用，比如苹果的Aperture。虽然现在的商店可以识别到之前已经安装的应用，却不会进行更新。而且，苹果还不允许开发商在应用之外收取其他订阅服务的费用，比如软件维护、数据库和内容支持（游戏邦注：苹果最近已调整有关这一服务的相关条款）。
苹果的iOS和Mac应用商店对开发商的严格要求为人们所熟知。这一点在苹果的iOS App Store中体现得尤为明显，因为这是个封闭式的销售环境。苹果会在审核应用的质量，当他们认为质量不符合要求时会驳回应用，而且通常并未给出具体的原因。有时应用被驳回是出于技术性原因，比如应用会影响到平台的安全性。但有时确实出于市场营销原因，比如苹果禁止那些带有Flash视频、集成代码、不良内容和复制苹果自有产品功能的应用进入商店。
苹果在其Mac App Store中的做法较为亲和，因为Mac应用有实体店和Web商店等其他销售渠道，而且苹果无需控制用户体验。苹果害怕某些运行的iOS应用会影响到iPhone的运行速度，或者与其他应用发生冲突，抑或导致用户手机更容易受到其他不安全的威胁。在桌面应用方面苹果并不会碰上此类问题，因为Mac有着更高性能的CPU、内存、存储量和带宽，而且Mac OS X的管理员账户安全模式广为人所称道。
现有的Mac OS应用开发商似乎觉得将其应用移植到Mac App Store上较为简单。SmileSoftware的Scown注意到，苹果要求其TextExpander和PDFpen应用做出些许改变，但多数的改变是要让应用的运行更为可靠。他说道：“苹果以这种良好的方式来告知开发商，这些就是Mac App Store上的规则。公司确实要求应用做出些许改变，比如减少未发布的调用数量，多数改变都是良性的。苹果强迫开发商回过头来用正确的方法来开发应用。”
但是现有Mac应用的开发商或许会发现他们的软件无法完全遵从Mac App Store的指导原则，尽管在Mac OS X上运行得相当完好。比如，Scown说道：“我们的TextExpander要求用户打开Access for Assistive Devices，并要求用户用管理员账户登录。但是苹果的指导原则认为应用不应该要求用户对管理员模式做出改变。苹果询问我们为什么要这么做，我们解释称如此做法对应用的功能至关重要。这样应用的审核才通过。”
也就是说，苹果在iOS审核中的独断专行在Mac App Store中仍会体现出来。Araeulium Group的QuickPick应用和文件打开程序最初通过了审核，但又被苹果从Mac App Store中移除，据报道是因为这款应用与苹果即将发布的Mac OS X Lion中的Launchpad相似。
苹果在Mac App Store中的这种变化让许多开发商感到大为不快，他们呼吁该公司提供更为自由的应用商店。但是，开放性的应用商店有可能出现吗？Cydia的Freeman表示，存在这种可行性。开放的应用商店可以提供更为自由的模式，比如降低抽成比例、减少内容和架构限制并共享用户信息。他说道：“只要存在Mac OS或Windows之类的桌面操作系统，我们（游戏邦注：指代所有的开源开发商）就有可能开发出应用。第三方Mac应用商店远没有这么多的障碍。”
通过吸纳包含或基于开源软件的应用，开放式Mac应用商店还能够解决苹果所提供服务中的内在开源冲突。据苹果官方消息，流行开源授权GPLv2与苹果的Mac App Store授权并不兼容。Mac App Store的服务条款对此类许可有所限制，因而目前GPLv2和多数其他的开源授权程序都无法进入Mac App Store。
尽管苹果严格控制用户数据并拥有较大抽成比例，Mac App Store仍然稳步成长，而且应用开发商希望成长的步伐能够加速，更多Mac用户能够使用App Store功能。SmileSoftware的Scown说道：“我们期盼Mac App Store能够成长，因为已有数百万用户将系统升级至10.6.6。这会使我们的用户数有所增长。”
看着苹果的Mac App Store获得成功以及众多开发商热忱的心境，微软难道会视而不见吗？他们必将提供与众不同的应用世界，应用商店将不再只存在于苹果的平台之上。
What the app store future means for developers and users
Apple’s App Store for its iPhone and other iOS devices is an unqualified success, blowing through the 10 billion downloads mark in January. Seeing the store grow from 500 apps to more than 400,000 in just three years, Apple decided to take the app store concept to the Mac this year, with its App Store feature in Mac OS X 10.6.6. That new sales venue is off to a fast start, with 1 million downloads in the first day. Although Apple has not released sales numbers for the Mac App Store, CEO Steve Jobs noted in his iPad 2 announcement that Apple has paid a total of $2 billion to developers across both stores. Apple’s 30 percent share of that bounty amounts to a tidy $850 million.
That net income potential hasn’t been lost on Apple’s competitors. In the years since Apple’s 2008 iPhone App Store launch, other mobile OS makers — Google, HP, Microsoft, and Nokia — have launched their own stores. All are reportedly profitable for their operators.
Thus, they’re likely to gain even more prominence. Users, IT, and developers will have to adjust to their increasing role as a distribution mechanism for software. For developers in particular, that could mean significant changes to how they run their software businesses.
Apple rules the app store — but didn’t invent it
It’s easy to forget that Apple didn’t originate the app store concept, even on the iPhone. Although Apple today is the major app store purveyor of desktop apps, the concept is floating among other desktop operating systems. Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux, for example, offers access to various apps directly from its menu bar, so users don’t have to search randomly for software. Google does the same with its Chrome Store for Web apps.
Additionally, Microsoft has been long rumored to be planning an app store for its Windows 8 release. Microsoft last month did launch a special-purpose app store for Office 365, although the venue is limited to 100 Office 365-specific applications and services. Like Apple, Microsoft has a huge captive customer base, with its Windows Live ID well positioned to be a single sign-on point for Microsoft app buyers à la Apple’s iTunes Store. Should Microsoft take this step, the question becomes whether it avoids the issues of Apple’s Mac App Store and instead leapfrogs Apple — or whether Microsoft ends up trailing far behind Apple, as it has with its Windows 7 App Store.
App-store-like centralized software repositories have existed for nearly a decade. In 2002, Linspire’s Michael Robertson created the Click-n-Run software repository GUI, and since then Linux has sported such utilities such as Red Hat Package Manager (RPM) and Advanced Package Tool (APT), mainstays for network-based OS and application installation. Later, stores such as Handango sprung up to sell downloadable apps for the once rapidly growing pocket PC market.
By contrast, Steve Jobs initially eschewed native apps for the iPhone, claiming that Web 2.0 apps, delivered via HTTP, would provide all the functionality mobile users required. But within weeks of Apple’s 2007 iPhone shipping, hackers had unlocked the device and ported Linux’s APT utility as a program named Installer, letting users install native apps directly on the iPhone.
Shortly after, iPhone and open source developer Jay Freeman (aka Saurik) launched the Cydia app installer (and later Cydia Store), another open source tool that ultimately would become a rogue application sales competitor against Apple in 2009. Apple apparently saw the value of native apps and, rather than ceding the ground to jailbreakers, launched the iPhone App Store in July 2008. iPhone app development blossomed, and when Apple shipped the iPad last year, most iPhone apps immediately became available to iPad users.
That success set the stage for the app store concept’s adoption by every major platform vendor, to varying degrees. (As a consequence, Apple has taken the offensive against competitors by trying to trademark the “app store” term.)
The new cost/revenue equation
The primary attraction for developers of Apple’s Mac App Store — the 800-pound gorilla today — is the collection of 200 million Apple ID accounts, complete with credit cards, primed for one-click purchases. The developers of Pixelmater, a $60 image-editing tool, learned this well when it grossed $1 million in just 20 days of Mac App Store exposure.
But to get to this market, developers have to set up a separate payment, download, and update mechanism for each app store. In the case of the Apple store, it also means jumping through a lot of hoops ostensibly meant for quality control.
Developers do set their own prices, and although many apps have iOS-like sub-$10 pricing, quite a few cost hundreds of dollars. However, Apple strongly suggested that the App Store audience deserves a lower-priced product when it dramatically cut the price of its own Apple Remote and Aperture apps in the Mac App Store. Apple also unbundled the $80 iWork package of Keynote, Numbers, and Pages into separate $20 App Store products.
Those lower prices don’t necessarily mean less net revenue for developers. Using the App Store can lower a developer’s delivery costs by a few percent compared to physical product delivery such as in physical retailers or mail-order sales. That can add up to a significant cost component, at least for inexpensive programs. “We take home a bit more from the App Store,” says SmileSoftware founder Greg Scown. “Basically what we see is the App Store replacing the retail box channel, doing so in a broader way than retail ever did, but not replacing the Web channel.”
Apple’s iOS App Store drew a legion of first-time developers, who leapt at the opportunity to focus on development rather than sales. Similar benefits accrue to nascent Mac developers: By letting Apple handle the sales cycle, product delivery, serialization, and DRM, new (to the Mac) developers can shorten the time to market dramatically. However, Apple’s sales processes don’t replace advertising. “The App Store is not a substitute for marketing — you still have to advertise, cultivate communities, and support users,” Scown says.
Apple takes a 30 percent cut of all sales in its app stores. That’s more than conventional e-commerce sales channels such as PayPal and Kagi, or open source digital rights management channels such as AquaticPrime. Although a 30 percent cut is common in the retail box sales channel, in that venue the commission pays for physical product handling and storage space, none of which Apple’s (or others’) app stores incur.
A second downside for developers is Apple’s retention of App Store sales customer data. Apple gives developers daily sales reports and, eventually, cash, but no customer relationship information: no name, email address, or demographic data. But neither do retail box stores. Mac App developers have the option of requesting app registration information upon launch, but nothing prevents a user from entering bogus data. Developers in the IndieGamer.com forum have complained that Apple shouldn’t retain customer information while at the same time taking 30 percent of the price.
The 30 percent sales commission seems disproportional for higher-priced, usually more sophisticated apps. In a TechRadar interview, Rogue Amoeba CEO Paul Kafasis complained, “A developer has to do a lot more work providing more features, more functionality. Apple, on the other hand, does no extra work selling a more expensive application, yet their cut (in raw numbers) gets much larger.” Major app developers such as Adobe and Microsoft seem to agree: None of their line-of-business products has moved to the Mac App Store in the five months it’s been operating.
Although the days of boxed software seem numbered, a two-tiered approach to online sales is likely to continue for some time. First, Mac developers aren’t locked into the Mac App Store for delivery (as iOS developers are). “Some of our customers opt for the convenience of the app store installation model, but others prefer to purchase from us directly for various licensing and packaging options — family packs, user group pricing, etc. And for users who want the bleeding edge, our app updates go to direct purchasers immediately, but Apple takes a week or so to review App Store updates,” says SmileSoftware’s Scown.
The Mac App Store has a few quirks as well. First, it can’t be used to update an existing pre-App Store version of, for example, Apple’s Aperture. Although the store “sees” the application as installed, it won’t update it. And, at least today, Apple is blocking developers from charging outside an app for subscription services, such as software maintenance, database access, and content feeds.
The reality of working in closed app store environment
Apple’s iOS and Mac app stores are famous for imposing restrictive requirements on developers. That’s particularly true in Apple’s iOS App Store, which is a closed sales venue. Apple determines which apps qualify for entry, and when it deems they do not, summarily rejects them, often without providing clear reasons. Sometimes the reason for rejection is technical, such as an app that violates platform security. But other times the motive is market-oriented, such as Apple’s prohibition of Flash video, interpreted code, “objectionable” content, and apps that duplicate Apple product functionality.
Apple has taken a lighter approach with its Mac App Store, both because Mac apps have other sales venues — brick-and-mortar and Web stores — and because Apple doesn’t have the same need to control the user experience. In the case of iOS, Apple feared — with some justification — that runaway apps could slow the iPhone and interfere with other apps, as well as create security vulnerabilities. Apple doesn’t face that problem with desktop apps, which can take advantage of Macs’ much higher CPU, memory, storage, and bandwidth resources, and of Mac OS X’s well-established security model through the administrator account.
Existing Mac OS developers appear to find porting their apps to the Mac App Store reasonably straightforward. SmileSoftware’s Scown notes that Apple required some changes to its TextExpander and PDFpen apps, but most of the changes were geared toward reliable operation. “Apple did a pretty good job of laying out ‘these are the rules.’ It did require modifications to the apps, such as eliminating unpublished calls, which are mostly good things. Apple forces developers to go back and use the correct methods in these cases.”
But developers with existing Mac apps may find that their software doesn’t operate within the Mac App Store guidelines, despite having a reliable track record with Mac OS X. For example, “our TextExpander requires that the user turn on Access for Assistive Devices, with requires administrative account login. But Apple’s guidelines say apps can’t require users to make administrative mode changes. Apple asked why we needed that capability, and we explained that it is critical to the app functionality. So it permitted it.”
Alas, vestiges of Apple’s iOS arbitrary rejections persist in the Mac App Store realm. Araeulium Group’s QuickPick application and document launcher was removed from the Mac App Store by Apple after initially being accepted, reportedly because the years-old app resembles the Launchpad in Apple’s upcoming Mac OS X Lion release.
Apple’s capriciousness in the Mac App Store has many in the developer community up in arms, calling for an alternative open source store free from Apple’s control. But is an open app store remotely possible? Certainly, says Cydia’s Freeman. An open app store contender could make a difference by offering more liberal terms: lower commissions, fewer content and architectural restrictions, and shared ownership of the customer. “With a desktop OS such as Mac OS or Windows, we [open source developers] have the chance to do things right. There are no barriers to third-party Mac app stores, none at all,” he says.
“There is a concern that the platform maintainers, such as Apple, will attempt to gradually lock the system down to a single application sales channel, as there is on the iPhone today [for nonjailbroken iPhones], and [developers want] sales models that give more access to metrics and customer relationships for subscriptions, upgrades, and incremental changes,” Freeman says.
An open Mac app store would also address the open source conflict inherent in Apple’s offering, by freely welcoming applications consisting of, or based on, open source software. GPLv2, a very popular open source license, and Apple’s Mac App Store license are incompatible, according to Apple. The Mac App Store’s terms of service restrict certain usages, while GPLv2 expressly prohibits use restrictions, an impasse that currently bars GPLv2 and most other open-source-licensed programs from the Mac App Store.
Despite Apple’s tight grip on customer data and heavy commission hit, the Mac App Store is seeing steady growth, and app makers expect that growth to accelerate as more Mac users upgrade their to add the App Store capability. “We’re looking forward to Mac App Store growth,” says SmileSoftware’s Scown, “since there are millions of users pending upgrade to 10.6.6. As they update to that or Lion, that expands our audience.”
Given Apple’s Mac App Store success, and the willingness of developers to endure moderate hardships, can Microsoft be far behind? It will be a different application world, and not just on Apple’s platforms. (Source: Java World)