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Mac App Store: Developer godsend or Evil Empire?

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Questions – and crickets – remain

Siegel also sees additional pitfalls in the Mac App Store model. "There are other costs to doing business in the App Store. A big one, especially for established companies who are used to doing it another way, is you lose control over the relationship with the customer. We don't know who our App Store customers are."

A big reason for Siegel's concern about losing the direct relationship with his customers that he develops from sales at Bare Bones Software's online store – and a major concern he has with the App Store as a whole – is that Apple provides no way for a developer to sell upgrades to their apps.

"Today there is no stated [paid] upgrade model, and for established developers who are used to doing business another way, that's a point of discomfort. At least for us it's not a [current] issue because we don't have an upgrade to sell right now – but when we do, it's going to be very important to have that question answered."

We asked Siegel if he had raised that concern with Apple. He has. Asked what Apple's answer was, he responded with an entomological metaphor for silence: "Crickets. 'We've heard this question. We know it's important. We don't have an answer.' Crickets."

The inability to get timely responses to questions he poses to Apple, or to get timely estimates of when an app will be approved or rejected, has created business problems for Siegel.

"There's a lot of opacity," he said, referring to dealing with Apple. "Typically there's a lack of feedback. You'll submit an app for review, and it's kind of like the original set of complaints about the iOS App Store" – meaning a lack of feedback.

He emphasized that he's not asking that Apple provide developers with a precise date for approval or rejection. "I'm not looking for a service-level agreement," he said. "I'm looking for guidance. I'm looking for you to tell me 'Your current hold time is 15 minutes'. I'd like to know that."

And Siegel was quick to cut Apple slack. "They're still finding their feet, they're still working their processes out," he said, but his forbearance doesn't diminish the challenges. "You'll submit an app and you don't know how long the wait is," he said, "They don't do any expectation management. And in the lack of expectation management you have an expectation gap. I would like to know, if I were to submit my app, if they'd say, 'Okay, right now our turnaround is 10 days.' That's valuable information when I'm trying to plan."

But Siegel acknowledged that there are two sides to his relationship with Apple. "I find myself able to look at the problem, the issue, from two different angles. There's the developer's side where I need to know what's happening because I need to make plans. I gotta know when the website needs to be ready. I need to know when the press release needs to go out. I need to know when to email my customers. All that important operational stuff," he said. "On the other hand, Apple is a business, and they don't really owe me anything – except 70 per cent."

At this point in the Mac App Store's short life, Siegel said, "it's easy to come to the conclusion that there are lots of realities for existing developers that the App Store process model didn't take into account. There's the opacity of the review process, there's the upgrade model, oddly there's no provision for educational pricing in the App Store for Mac apps but there is in the iOS App Store."

When asked if he had asked Apple about those problems, Siegel replied that he had, and that Apple's answer was "'This is a question we've gotten and we know it's important'. Crickets," he said.

Siegel finds the lack of clear information from Apple to be disquieting. "Any measure of concern comes from the uncertainty. I'm running a business. I'm accustomed to having control over my own destiny," he said.

That uncertainty, Siegel believes, may simply exist because Apple is finding its way. "In this span of time," he said, "if there's a pretty clear [response from Apple that says] 'Oh crap, we didn't think of that, let us work through it'," then all will be copacetic.

But things could change. In six months, Apple could say something different. Or nothing at all.

In addition to the lack of a paid upgrade policy that concerns Siegel, The Omni Group's Case was disappointed that the Mac Apps Store doesn't allow trial or try-before-you-buy apps. "I would love to see trials," he told us. "I think that would be great."

In a related note, Case believes that the Mac App Store pulls the rug out from under shareware publishers. "I would guess that it will replace a lot of shareware," Case said, but he also suggested that "Maybe they will continue to operate as shareware through their own websites."

Siegel agrees with Case about trials. "No demos, no 'try before you buy.' That's not the way we do it – especially at our level. Two bucks, five bucks – who cares? Fine, if it doesn't work. But $38.99 is real money. I would like to see 'try before you buy'."

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