Glass Maze Every jumbled pile of person

3 June 2012


Brave New Walled Garden

Is it better to buy Mac applications directly from developers, or from the Mac App Store? Wolf Renztsch enumerates the pros and cons of both alternatives and concludes that, ultimately, the new sandboxing requirements tilt the balance decisively toward direct purchase. Here’s the salient point:

Less Risk of Losing Your Software Investments: I bought Divvy via the Mac App Store. Unfortunately Divvy relies on Apple’s Accessibility APIs, which aren’t allowed for sandboxed apps. That means aside from minor bug fixes, I will no longer receive updates for the application I purchased.

… Sandboxing is just the latest App Store rule change, I’m sure there’s more to come. All things being equal, it’s safer to buy directly instead of being cut off from your own software based on an arbitrary Apple policy change.

Sandboxing aside, this is the key consideration: whether you’re comfortable allowing Apple to be the aperture through which your app purchases must pass. There are undeniable advantages to this, all of them revolving around better user experience.

But Apple has demonstrated over and over again its willingness to abuse the power they’ve granted themselves (on iOS in particular, where there is no possibility of direct purchases) and there’s no reason to think they won’t do the same with Mac software. As soon as the Mac App Store achieves enough critical mass that they can confidently screw their developers, then the screwing will commence, in earnest.

For example: as Renztsch points out, Smile software has figured out a way around Apple’s policy of only allowing App Store applications to access iCloud:

Apple has decided only Mac App Store apps (and thus now sandboxed apps) can access iCloud. Fortunately this isn’t much of an issue since the smart folks at SmileOnMyMac have already demonstrated a work-around of having a “bridge” Mac App Store application which allows its directly-sold PDFPen to access iCloud as well.

It is indeed a clever solution, but it’s also at the mercy of Apple’s arbitrary and ever-changing store policies. When Apple decides that they don’t like what Smile is doing (as seems likely), then new rules will suddenly appear, prohibiting it.

What’s so insidious about this is that normal people are, for the most part, completely unaware of what’s going on here. Most users will (understandably) gravitate toward what’s easiest, and the Mac App Store is certainly that. Any costs they incur will be opportunity costs — not the things they lose now, but the things that never see the light of day, because of Apple’s gatekeepers.

It’s an ugly situation, and all the incentives (for both developers and users) herd us inexorably to a future inside the brave new world of Apple’s walled garden.

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