Apple's announcement of a Mac App Store raised plenty of questions, which won't be answered until it launches in a few months. But one thing's already certain: Apple's got a hit on its hands. Just as the iPhone App Store put a high gloss on the face of smartphone software, the Mac's digital app storefront will make native PC apps seem new again. Here's why:
The $1 App Idea
Apple didn't invent dirt-cheap software, but the iPhone App Store created a lucrative platform for it. Clever task planners and simple games got widespread promotion in a central location, and suddenly a lot of developers realized they didn't have to make huge, expensive apps to make a lot of money.
The same thing's going to happen on the Mac. Over at TechCrunch, MG Siegler floats the idea of micro-apps, like a native version of Pandora or a well-integrated version of Facebook. He notes that Apple tried this concept with widgets, but they didn't take off because they lacked promotion and a way to make money. The Mac App Store will provide both.
A Reason to Buy
Just like the iPhone App Store, Mac's storefront comes with a strict set of rules for developers. But the stuff for which Apple catches flack -- no porn, no religious commentary, no realistic depictions of violence -- is not what makes the App Store successful. What's most important is Apple's obsessive control over how the software behaves, and the same rules apply to the Mac App Store.
A few examples: Mac apps cannot automatically run when the computer starts without user permission. They can't launch processes that continue to run after the program is closed. They can't send data to third parties without user permission or demand personal information as a condition to run. They must adhere to Apple's user interface guidelines. They may be rejected simply for being too difficult to use. All these rules enforce quality and a guarantee that an app won't mess up your computer. This is why people will head to the Mac App Store in the first place.
The Lion in the Room
Apple's upcoming OS X update, Lion, brings the app-centric mentality of the iPhone and iPad back to the Mac, particularly with a feature called Launchpad. The simple grid of apps and folders, accessible by clicking a dock icon, looks exactly like an iOS home screen. On some level, it's just a different take on the desktop, but while traditional PC desktops look worse with clutter, Launchpad begs for it, letting users swipe between multiple screens of apps. That's only going to encourage people to buy more.