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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.

The benevolent dictator

I think of our App Store apps as being under the control of a generally benevolent dictator. Apple sets all the rules, and they’re mostly nice to their citizens. But if Apple changes the rules and your app doesn’t meet the new rules, you might be out. If Apple decides your previously-approved app doesn’t match existing rules, you might be out. Apple can also just remove your app, without really explaining why.

Apple doesn’t usually behave in this manner, which is good for all involved. But what if they do, and you happen to be the targeted developer, and you’ve just lost your only sales channel? Wouldn’t it be great if you had direct selling ready to go as a fallback?

App review times

App review times can be an issue if you’re trying to patch a critical bug or get a major new release in customers’ hands. Currently, the review time is about seven days:

review times
It currently takes about a week to get a new submission or app update reviewed by Apple.

Even worse, if you get a review rejection, that resets the clock. This delay adds complexity to planning product releases and updates and puts your timeline under Apple’s control.

The sandbox

The sandbox is also troublesome when I’m wearing my developer hat. We’ve spent hours working around various glitches in the sandbox, trying to get things to work as they were expected to work. We’ve had to leave features out because they weren’t allowed in a sandboxed app. In the end, we wind up with an app that may have fewer features than its direct-sales counterpart, and that takes longer to develop. That’s not a good combination.

Customer interaction

Many App Store buyers use the Reviews section to leave tech support questions (often with one-star reviews because the user is having an issue). Developers can’t reply to these questions, so the one-star review and its negative commentary remain forever. Apple needs to provide a way for developers to respond to App Store buyers (without giving away the buyers’ identity, obviously). I feel awful when I can’t help someone who posted a very simple tech support issue as a “review,” but never directly contacted us for help.

The final word

As a consumer, I prefer buying direct because the developer gets more of my money, future updates aren’t under the control of a third party, and there’s no sandbox to limit what my purchased apps can do. But that doesn’t mean I hate the App Store; I think it’s done a great job at bringing more OS X apps to more users, and I use it when purchasing certain types of apps, like simple games—and any apps I can’t buy direct but need to purchase.


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