Mac App Store: Blueprint for the software retailer of tomorrow?

Online software distribution channels are on the rise, but to succeed, app stores must become more like real stores

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Sales start with salesmanship
So why put up with it? While it's true that the Mac App Store developer license comes with restrictions similar to its iOS counterpart, unlike with the iPhone and iPad, the Mac App Store won't be the only way to get applications onto your Mac. Developers who disagree with Apple's terms can simply opt out. Why allow Apple to dictate the terms of the market when you don't have to -- particularly when there's no real evidence of consumer demand for a desktop app store to begin with?

The answer, quite plainly, is that Apple has shown that it's very, very good at online software distribution. In December, the 300 most popular free apps in the iOS App Store generated more than 300 million downloads per day, according to app store monitoring company Distimo. The top paid apps averaged around 350,000 downloads per day.

Compare that to Google's Android Market. Overall, though Android's share of the smartphone market is climbing, Android app sales remain much softer than iOS app sales. Even after an overhaul in December, developers are unsatisfied with the Android Market's front-facing UI, which can be hard to navigate and limits the amount of descriptive text for apps.

Worse, however, are the back-end problems. Early on, developers complained that apps would disappear from the Android Market and that download counts were reported incorrectly. Even after the latest updates, the store offers little in the way of download charts or analytics, payment processing is cumbersome for sellers, and the download process for users is failure-prone.

That Google has not moved to address these problems more rapidly is telling. It suggests that Google is offering Android app downloads as an online service, one it runs the same way it does Gmail, Google Apps, and its other offerings -- some of which have languished in extended beta phases. By comparison, Apple is running its app stores not as a mere download service, but as an online retail platform backed by the full reputation of the Apple brand. Little wonder, then, that browsing the Apple store feels like shopping in an Apple retail store, while browsing the Android Market feels like cruising the aisles at Wal-Mart.

Enter the 800-pound gorilla:
That's why I was intrigued by last week's announcement of the Amazon Appstore for Android. Unlike iOS devices, most Android handsets aren't limited to downloading apps from the Android Market. That creates the opportunity for competition, not just in the market for Android devices, but between online software distribution channels as well.

Unlike the current Android Market, the Amazon Appstore will be a curated marketplace. Apps will be reviewed for offensive content, respect for users' privacy, and overall software quality -- much like Apple does for its App Store. While this does place restrictions on developers, it also emulates Apple's model, in which only products of reasonable value are deemed fit for sale. (Most brick-and-mortar retailers use the same model.)

More important, is already the Web's leading retail platform. As such, vendors have access to a variety of sales tools, ranging from detailed product pages to's sophisticated recommendation engine. Buyers will also be able to shop from their home PCs to enjoy the full browsing experience -- which they can't do with the Android Market -- and they will benefit from's widely lauded customer service.

These are precisely the type of advantages that desktop app stores need to offer if they hope to succeed. The Android Market has proven that "build it and they will come" doesn't fly with software markets. Instead of a mere download service, software stores must be full retail experiences. Apple knows how to provide that, and so does If the competition continues to drive innovation, software developers may soon find that app stores have graduated from being a necessary evil to being an actual sales advantage.

This article, "Mac App Store: Blueprint for the software retailer of tomorrow?," was originally published at Track the latest developments in programming at, and for the latest in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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