The Mac App Store: First impressions and recommendations

Since the Mac App Store opened yesterday and general online hysteria ensued (seemingly around 30% of my Twitter content focused on the App Store) I, like almost every other tech guy on the planet poured over the interface and content in depth. Now that I’ve had a day to get my hands dirty, I wanted to elaborate with a few thoughts and, in a sea of 1000 plus initial applications, a few download recommendations.

First impressions

The App Store will be the only application source for 95% of users out there.

Based on my experience the first day and getting a sense of opinion on blogs and Twitter, the ease of use (e.g. no more disk images, one click syncing among multiple Macs) means there is no going back for most to traditional downloads and brick and mortar purchases. We’re talking a massive hit here. I first speculated the split would remain a bit more even between the App Store and traditional downloads, but in retrospect that was a misguided prediction. Traditional downloads will remain relevant for a very small segment of power users, but that number should dwindle over time.

Consumers are getting cheaper apps and better deals.

While the downward trajectory of prices likely won’t be as significant as what happened after the launch of the iOS store, the number of heavily discounted apps vs. a traditional download are significant. For example, the popular indie image editor Pixelmator is already down to $30, half of it’s original download price. Take it from Apple to lead the market as well: Prices have been slashed to $15 and $20 for a la carte iLife and iWork apps along with a bonkers $80 price on Aperture, down from $200 for the boxed product. I first suspected some developers would have slightly higher prices on the App Store to account for Apple’s 30% cut of sales, but that doesn’t appear to be happening.

The lucky first developers will experience a gold rush.

News has already broke that Apple had a million downloads on the App Store yesterday alone, and looking at the top sellers that means there’s a lot of mediocre apps making significant money. That has parallels to the iOS App Store launches – first entries into the market often made massive revenues and gains on the competition regardless of quality. For example, the in my opinion overrated GoodReader app made a splashy $1 debut for the iPad App Store on day one launch, and has gone on to dominate sales and attention over arguably better competition like ReaddleDocs and AirSharing.

However, the converse is also true; there’s plenty of great indie dev companies like Panic and The Omni Group who have already debuted on the App Store and are racking up much deserved (and often very belated) profits and attention.

Latecomer developers still can carve a niche and succeed.

The downside of the cumbersome app approval process means a lot of great apps like Scrivener and Ulysses haven’t yet appeared, and at least one team is worried. I think unlike the brutal competition the iOS Stores suffer from, given the complexity, scope and higher prices of most Mac apps, quality work will find a market. While there are handful of impulse purchase priced (a.k.a. under $10) like the iOS store, when people are routinely spending $20 or more for a Mac App Store app with currently no demo period (still probably the App Store’s greatest downside), good word of mouth and quality goes a long way.

Recommended downloads

At last, the much delayed Tweetie 2 is here, and it’s gorgeous and free. I currently have some serious quibbles with both the lack of customization and unorthodox user interface, but nevertheless this is still clearly in the top tier of Mac Twitter clients I’ve used.

Bowtie provides a customizable set of music player shortcuts and a mini visualization/control set of what’s playing. As an alternative to constantly switching back to the very bloated iTunes, it’s a revelation. Also, considering this app is free, it’s pretty much a no brainer to try. Coversutra is a paid alternative that offers better search capabilities, but lacks Growl support. Considering I use Alfred (see below) for iTunes searches, I’m siding with Bowtie for now.

I’ve already talked about this app in more depth on a previous post, but the short version it’s a powerful, keyboard based interface for fast application launching, file management, calculations, and much more. I’ve been hooked on the program for months, and it’s boosted my speed and productivity with my Mac.

While I’m currently a heavy user of Aperture’s main competitor Lightroom, Aperture is still a great professional photo organizer and editor, light years ahead consumer focused apps like iPhoto and Picassa. It’s interface is very customizable and I’d argue best of its class. The most noteworthy factor now is the price: $80, which is incredible deal by any standard; it’s a high end standalone app cheaper than the upgrade price on almost any professional app (usually $100 to $500 or more.)

Solebon Solitaire
I rarely play games on my Mac, but it’s nice to have a classic standby like solitaire for a quick break. It’s only $1 for 42 variations of the game, and the app has a very clean yet polished layout.