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The Mac App Store: With convenience comes compromise

Rob Griffiths | Nov. 10, 2015
"Available exclusively on the Mac App Store" seems like ideal marketing, but it comes with many strings attached for both users and developers.

App updates at Apple’s discretion

App Store apps are updated at Apple’s discretion—all updates must be approved prior to release. Review times on both the iOS and Mac App Stores average about a week. That’s bad if you’re waiting on a critical bug fix. (There are escalation paths, but developers don’t like to ring that alarm bell too often.)

The developer hat

First off, I realize that selling direct isn’t necessarily easy—especially for someone who has only ever sold on the Mac App Store. A direct-selling developer needs a licensing system, a storefront, a shopping cart and payment processor, and an app update mechanism—these are all things Apple supplies for apps in the App Store.

However, there are third-party frameworks available to help developers with the aforementioned licensing, shopping cart, and in-app updates.

Xcode (the development tool for OS X apps) helps too, as projects can be constructed in a manner that makes it relatively easy to build both versions of an app from one code base. Sections of code, like that required for in-app updates, can be marked for inclusion in one version but not the other.

So while there are hurdles to direct selling, they’re not insurmountable. We’re a good example: we have but one developer, and yet seven of our 10 apps are sold both direct and in the App Store (the other three aren’t sandboxable).

With that said, here are some of the things about App Store-only selling that I find troubling as a developer.

One distribution channel

Almost nobody who sells anything sells it through only one partner. You can buy a Samsung TV at Best Buy or Sears or Costco. You can buy books from tons of resellers. But if you sell only on the Mac App Store, that’s the only spot a potential customer can buy your app.

This may not seem limiting, but we’ve heard from many customers who tell us they use computers at work that are blocked from the App Store; these buyers would have no recourse if we sold solely on the Mac App Store.

No demos, no refunds

I want people to try our apps before deciding they like them. And if they buy an app and decide it’s not for them, I’d like them to be able to get a refund (within a reasonable time period). The App Store doesn’t allow either of these things.

It’s expensive

Apple takes 30 percent of an app’s sales price as the cost of using their storefront. By comparison, costs for selling direct run between 5 and 15 percent of revenue, depending on how you’re selling. That’s a big difference when you’re a small developer and every dollar matters.


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