The Mac App Store - First thoughts

It was inevitable - after Apple's success with the iOS App Store, they would want to get their finger in the pie for OS X Apps too. Is Alfred (and its Powerpack) suitable for the App Store? These are my very initial thoughts about the App Store split into Pros, Cons and Uncertains.

The Pros

Improved reach and visibility: With the positive feedback we get about Alfred, I would hope that we would be listed in the popular and Top Apps in the App store, even if it was only in the Productivity section. If so, this could be absolutely fantastic for Alfred as the visibility would go from reasonably small to millions of users overnight!

Easier purchase / installation process: Apple's installation process has always been a bit broken. I know this as I had to explain it to my mother recently. Allowing people to single-click to purchase / install Alfred and instantly activate it is definitely a positive. Over the past month, I have been working hard to change our checkout process to make it much easier for all users but it still won't be as easy as the App Store will make it. This work may now be shelved.

The Cons

The review process: This shouldn't cause a problem for Alfred as it is 100% 64 bit Obj C / Cocoa / Carbon and after a quick read of the T&Cs, Alfred would satisfy every requirement. However it may make us stumble in the future as it has done already with some legitimate apps in the current iOS App Store - I am a touch wary of this for now.

Fast Release Cycle and Pre Releases: I love doing fast release cycles and dev builds for our users. It gives them a sense of being involved in the development process, learning the App as it grows and feeling instantly comfortable when there are releases. The App Store would abstract the users from the process as they would only be getting the released versions. I could still do pre-releases from our own site but this would be a massive pain for the users as they would have to use two separate update processes for Alfred.

The user doesn't get a tangible License Key: They are locked to downloading and 'owning' the software through Apple. While this may not be a problem, it adds a level of dependency to Apple which I hope isn't going to become a problem for the customer beyond 10.7 Lion.

The Uncertains

The 30% Cut: While this works for simple apps which can be impulse buys and small $1 apps which subsequently require no customer support, I'm concerned that the App Store will drive the value of desktop apps down into this model. If it does, then we simply couldn't continue the near-instant and thorough support that we currently pride ourselves by. We love our users and we can see that they love our feedback - I don't want this to change.

Unable to provide support in The App Store ratings / reviews: So many times on the App Store I have seen people publish negative feedback and 1 star ratings because they don't understand the software. On Twitter, this can be rectified in a second and convert a frustrated customer into a happy customer in seconds.

Unanswered Questions

  • Current Powerpack users: Can they be migrated to the App Store update process for free? If we did go to the App Store, we want these users to get the benefit of the easy update process but without an additional cost.
  • Family packs and Mega Supporters: Can we still separate the purchase types? Apple has a family pack for iLife / iWork so I am assuming that this will be possible.
  • Will the App Store be in all our target market countries? Otherwise we will have to have a separate checkout / licensing / deployment process anyway.
  • No support for Leopard deployment: What does this mean for our Leopard users? Will we need a separate deployment process for these users?

In Conclusion

As you may have gathered from Twitter and the way that we interact with our community - our users are the main focus and we want to do the very best for them.

On the one hand I would prefer to keep Alfred completely independent, improve our checkout and update process and keep the sense of community that we have built since initial release in March 2010. On the other hand, I am worried that if Alfred doesn't go into the App Store, it will be forgotten about or dwarfed by alternatives.

I would be very interested in hearing your views on this.

Cheers,
Andrew (@preppeller)

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