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App Store II: Steve Jobs sucks Mac's soul

The Human Interface Commandments

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Competition be damned

Similar to existing Apple apps: Apple will decide which apps it wants to compete with, user preference be damned.

If you control the platform — hardware, operating system, and access to software — you get to control the competition. And with this barrier to competitive entry, Apple will decide which direct competitors it allows into the Mac App Store.

Take, for example, Apple's iChat instant messaging app. Today, Mac users are free to choose to use it — it comes bundled with Mac OS X — or they can instead install Adium, AOL's AIM, Microsoft Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, or other iChat competitors.

When the Mac App Store goes online, Apple may choose to allow those apps a place in its sacred store, or it may not — and that removal of a consumer's right to choose, again, is the point: Apple will choose what apps its mainstream consumers have access to, not consumers themselves.

Which raises an interesting and somewhat unsettling point: although Jobs has said that the Mac App Store "won't be the only place" to get Mac apps, he hasn't said whether all types of apps available from, for example, third-party websites, will continue to be installable on future versions of Mac OS X.

Which raises an interesting and somewhat unsettling possibility: breaking out that tinfoil hat for a moment, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Apple might use some form of software-keyed lockout to allow only apps it approves of to be installable, and to ban installation access to apps it considers competitive.

We scurry to point out that this Brave New Worldian restriction is, of course, mere speculation. But we wouldn't call it unthinkable — if not in Mac OS X 10.7, aka Lion, then maybe in Cougar, Bornean Clouded Leopard, or whatever Jobs & Co. choose to call their future feline OS releases.

Yeah, we know, we know — pass the tinfoil.

"We see tremendous value in having Apple, rather than our users, being the systems integrator."

— Steve Jobs, 2010

Objectionable or crude content: Apple will extend its current iOS App Store Puritanism to its new Mac App Store.

As Latinate literary types are wont to say, "De gustibus non est disputandum" — meaning that you can't argue about taste. Apple ratchets that maxim up a notch by amending it to be: "You can't argue with our taste."

If Apple brands something as objectionable or crude, that's that. If your definition of objectionable differs from Cupertino's, too bad. As with all of Apple's other restrictions, they decide — not you, not the market, not prevailing societal norms, not nothin'.

Paternalism, thy name is Apple.

Professional apps

As we've noted, the Mac App Store has a decidedly consumer-centric focus — and that priority becomes even more clear when examining the Mac App Store Review Guidelines.

The store, simply put, isn't designed for large, complex apps. Three guidelines stand out:

  • "Apps must be self-contained, single application installation bundles, and cannot install code or resources in shared locations."
  • "Apps that require license keys or implement their own copy protection will be rejected."
  • "In general, the more expensive your app, the more thoroughly we will review it."

The way we read the shared-code restriction, apps and app suites that make use of shared libraries won't be allowed into the Mac App Store.

Needless to say, this restriction not only would prevent a hefty chunk of Apple apps from being available in the store — think GarageBand and its Apple Loops and support for AU, converted VST, and other shared audio plug-ins as a consumer-level example — but, more importantly, Adobe CS and even Microsoft Office won't be welcome.

The prohibition against copy protection also militates against pro apps. Does it mean that dongle-protected apps such as LightWave, or copy-protected apps requiring registration such as Sibelius are verboten? It seems so.

And that final warning — "the more expensive your app, the more thoroughly we will review it" — appears to be a direct challenge, and a warning to not even try to apply to the Mac App Store if your app is targeted at professionals.

Which, actually, is just fine. Pros and their support staffs are quite capable of assessing, installing, and managing their own apps, as long as Apple allows them to keep doing so.

And here is where we again don that darn tinfoil hat.

It remains to be seen just how iOS-y Mac OS 10.7 Lion turns out to be, and how much Apple values its relationship with its devoted professional base.

As we mentioned above, Steve Jobs defines Apple as a "high-volume consumer-electronics manufacturer." And as one anonymous source close to Apple's professional-application development team told The Reg, Jobs & Co. are deemphasizing the company's own pro-app development teams, and moving those resources to consumer efforts.

The Mac, of course, is and has been for many years the go-to platform for creative professionals. But it doesn't have to be. With the possible — and arguable — exception of Final Cut Pro, most Mac-centric creative apps are either available in Windows versions or have capable Windows substitutes.

If the Mac disappeared from the pro market, life would go on. And perhaps Steve Jobs could then lock all app distribution into the Mac App Store, and achieve his perfect computing ecosystem — one which he controls completely: hardware, operating system, and software distribution.

We're not saying that such a world will come into being next summer when Lion is uncaged. And we're not saying that such a world is even on the distant horizon. But still...

If Jobs & Co. decide that profit margins, support costs, engineering resources, and "curated" control would all be optimized in an Apple with a consumer-only focus, that might be Cupertino's future.

And it'd be Steve's world — you'd just be living in it.

Only if you should so choose, of course. ®

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