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Friday, 07 January 2011 11:48

Apple's App Store - hands on

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Apple's new App Store for OS X was launched overnight. Here's a hands-on look at what the app store does and doesn't do.

Apple is hoping that their App Store will do for the desktop what the App Store did for iOS - make it super easy for users to find an install applications on their computers while skimming a nice 30% of the price for the trouble. The goal is to create a win-win-win situation where life's easier for users, developers sell more software and Apple makes some money.

Installation

To install the App Store, Mac users will need to upgrade their systems to Snow Leopard 10.6.6 using Software Update or by using the Combo Upgrader from Apple's support software downloads. Once installed, your Mac will need to reboot but it will then have a new icon on the Dock for the App Store.

Interface

Once the App Store is launched, users will be confronted with a very familiar iTunes Store-like shop front. Once you log-in using the same credentials as the iTunes Store, your account credit is shown and you can redeem iTunes vouchers and do most of the same things as the iTunes Store.

In time, we'd not be surprised to see all of Apple's online selling through the same interface.

Down the right side of the screen, there are Top 10 lists for paid, grossing and free apps. The main part of the screen has a scrolling list of featured applications with other sections for 'New and Noteworthy', 'What's Hot' and 'Staff Favorites'. Again, if you've sued the iTunes Store none of this is foreign.


Existing Applications

No doubt, you've got a bunch of software already installed to your computer. The App Store, in some cases, already knows which apps you have installed.

For example, when I look at the iPhoto icon in the App Store, the software already knows I have this app installed. The same goes for all the iLife and iWork suites. This seems to be related to the recent updates Apple pushed out for these apps.

On the other hand, a couple of my other applications - Pixelmator (a truly excellent image editor) and Rapid Weaver (a website development tool) - were handled differently. Neither appeared as purchased in the App Store even though they'd been on my system for some time.

A closer look revealed that the version of Pixelmator I'm running on my Mac is 1.6.2. The one in the App Store is 1.6.4. According to Pixelmator's developers an in-app update to the most recent version is coming soon. Also, the version in the App Store is $20USD cheaper than it was on their online store when I purchased it a couple of weeks ago. And just to rub some salt in the wound, Pixelmator is offering a free upgrade to the next version for those who buy the software on the App Store.

RapidWeaver is another application we have on our drive. We're running the most recent version that the developer, Realmac Software, has made available through their in-app updater. Again, the version in the App Store is more recent and doesn't appear as a purchased program.

Although these are two isolated examples, it shows that there's some work for developers to do in order to catch up with user expectations.


Purchasing Apps

One of the things Apple has done particularly well with the iOS App Store and their online store is making the purchasing process very easy.

The first step in the purchasing process is to have an account with Apple. For this, all you need is an email address. Although it seems that you need a have a credit card, you can create an account with no payment method specified. This is useful if all you're after are some free apps.

We 'purchased' the new Twitter for Mac client this way. The entire process took about 30 seconds, including installation. The application was added to the Dock and the Applications folder without any extra clicking or dragging.

Once Twitter for Mac was installed, it was marked as 'Installed' in the App Store.

With paid applications, the process is almost exactly the same although you will need to either provide a credit card or have some credit in your account from iTunes vouchers. The best way to do this is to buy some vouchers when they're on sale.

Conclusions

There are clearly some substantial benefits for users with Apple's new App Store. Purchase and installation is now a single-click process. Choose your app, hit the purchase button, wait a few moments and the application is ready to use.

There may be some developers who resent having to shovel everything through Apple. However, there's no compulsion for them to follow suit and use the App Store. However, I suspect that Mac users will rarely venture outside the App Store once they're are accustomed to its convenience. There will be a transition period as users that haven't moved to Snow Leopard continue to use manual search and install methods.

However, by the end of 2011, we'd expect those users to be well and truly in the minority.

 

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