I wrote the following before the iPad was announced. The world may have changed since then, but I’m posting it anyway. Enjoy.
I like the content but not the title in “John Casasanta’s blog post about the so-called death of Mac software”:http://www.taptaptap.com/blog/iphone-software-sustainability-and-the-death-of-mac-software/. He shares some great stats and lays out the case for why iPhone development is more appealing and successful for him, but that doesn’t make the Mac dead. What he really meant and says later is that it’s dead to him.
For those of us who love writing Mac software and who don’t feel the pull of get-rich-quick blockbuster apps, the Mac is alive and remains just as healthy as it was before the iPhone was announced.
That’s not what I want to write about, though. The real question is how do we learn from the App Store and expand the market for Mac software. Compared to the iPhone, the Mac has a fragmented application discovery and an inconsistent purchasing experience.
When Keith Alperin and Rick Fillion “talked on the MDN Show”:http://www.mac-developer-network.com/shows/podcasts/mdnshow/mdn017/ about a possible Mac app store, Rick revealed some interesting numbers from “Bodega’s”:http://appbodega.com/ installed base: 80,000 downloads and 10,000 active users. They’re not 1.0, and I don’t see anything wrong with these numbers, but it’s not big enough yet to make an iPhone-like impact on how we buy Mac software.
What Bodega does have is a technology head start. “My products”:http://www.riverfold.com/ have been listed there since launch, and they have a polished application and feature-rich backend for tracking releases and collecting usage metrics. The key is solving the chicken-and-egg problem of getting the Bodega app in everyone’s hands.
There are two approaches: either get people excited about installing Bodega because it’s useful for updating existing apps (which it is), or sneak a copy of Bodega on to many more Macs (which is what this post is about). This solution isn’t perfect, but short of Apple building a real Mac App Store or a marketing giant like MacHeist getting involved, it’s the only idea I can see working.
First, start with “PotionStorefront”:http://github.com/potionfactory/potionstorefront. There are a few of these in-app purchase frameworks out there, but I like the “Potion Factory’s aesthetic”:http://www.potionfactory.com/thehitlist/ and Potion Store is popular. The web service used to submit orders could be supported by other custom store backends, including Bodega’s own purchasing system when they have it.
On top of this in-app purchase foundation, you bundle a subset of the Bodega application discovery UI directly into the framework. Users can download and install demo versions of new apps without leaving the catalog. Think of it as a “lite” version of Bodega, streamlined to fit inside everyone’s app. You also include the full Bodega application so that it can be launched and optionally installed in the user’s applications folder.
What you’ve effectively done here is give everyone who buys a third-party app access to a new store where they can discover other apps. It’s compelling for developers because the more companies that participate, the wider their reach becomes. And it’s great for users because over time it starts to create a consistent user experience, and familiarity reduces the effort in buying Mac software.
Some tricky issues remain, though. You don’t want to distract users from buying their first application, or muddle that app’s branding, and you want to later encourage users to find or be notified about new applications without it looking like an advertisement. The challenge is in finding a balance that most developers would want to use.
Back to the iPhone’s success, from a post by “Guy English”:http://kickingbear.com/blog/archives/67:
“People, lots and lots of people, people who have no idea what software even is, will download Apps like they’re snacking on potatoe chips. What’s my proof? Well, two million downloads of an App in a week supports that and I’d argue that a total of three billion Apps downloaded backs up my argument too.”
We’ve never seen anything like it, and I’m really happy for my friends who have had success on the iPhone. Luckily, the iPhone and Mac don’t actually compete. The App Store can sell ten thousand times the amount of software as the Mac does and it doesn’t change the fact that Mac users need software too. It’s our job as developers to continue to provide solutions for users and help those users find us.