Why Is the Mac App Store So Bad?

The Mac App Store is truly bad. If it was just third-party software, the Mac App Store would be laughable. Sure, the Windows app store isn’t a beacon of progress, but the Mac App Store is a regular stop for most macOS users. Why is the Mac App Store so bad, and what’s keeping Apple from making the Mac App Store better?

What makes the Mac App Store so bad?

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Why is the Mac App Store so bad? It’s not just one thing.

1. Restrictive Rules

If you want to sell your application on the Mac App Store, you’ll need to follow a set of restrictive rules. While the rules make sense, they also dramatically limit what apps can do. Every app in the Mac App Store must be sandboxed, meaning it can only interact with macOS in certain permitted ways. Applications in the Mac App Store can’t run as background processes, nor are they supposed to launch at login. This means must-have applications like Flux can’t be distributed through the Mac App Store, limiting customer choice and the app store’s usefulness.

2. Terrible Search

If you’re an iOS user, you’ve grown used to the terrible App Store search. It’s absolutely no better on the Mac App Store. Even when searching for the full name of an app, you’re likely to see other unrelated apps pop up for no obvious reason. Searching for a category of apps will surface a nearly random selection of tangentially related apps alongside things you’d actually like.

3. No Trial Software or Paid Upgrades

While the Mac App Store theoretically does allow for in-app purchases, we’ve never seen them used. The core issue is that the app upgrade paradigm isn’t the same on the Mac as it is on the iPhone. Mac application trials typically offer the full power of the software but for a limited amount of time. The Mac App Store doesn’t allow developers to put a “clock” on the free version. As a result, if you want a trial version of a paid application, you’ll need to visit the application developer’s website. Even seven years after launch, the Mac App Store still doesn’t allow for this use case.

4. Totally Unnecessary

In addition to all these annoyances, the Mac App Store isn’t really necessary. Well-known app developers have removed their applications from the Mac App Store, only to see no change in sales. In exchange, these developers gain access to freedom of design and other distribution channels. This makes putting up with the Mac App Store’s rules more difficult.

5. Developers Hate It

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With all these problems, it’s no surprise that developers hate the Mac App Store. Apple takes 30% of your sales, and in return, developers are forced to tolerate a miserable platform. This means that developers aren’t interested in using the platform, driving away the very people that Apple wants to embrace it. As a result, the variety of applications available in the Mac App Store diminishes even further.

Can’t the Mac App Store Be Better?

It’s hardly like the Mac App Store couldn’t be improved. And Apple isn’t so stupid as to not recognize that fact. So why hasn’t Apple fixed these problems? As outside observers, we can’t say for sure, but we suspect an internal disinterest in improving the product. Revamping the Mac App Store would be a huge task and require a massive investment of time, taking skilled developers away from more productive or fruitful projects. And it’s hard to imagine that Apple’s talented developers would fall over themselves to volunteer for the project, leaving junior developers to maintain the current situation.

Once all that development work would be completed, what would Apple gain? Probably not that much. Of course, it’s again impossible to say without internal data, but it’s hard to imagine that users would be enthusiastic about a new Mac App Store. It’s equally hard to imagine that it would drive sales of the Mac. If Apple as a corporation is trying to justify an investment of time, person-hours and money, the Mac App Store might not seem like an amazing return on that effort.

It’s hard not to see this neglect as a symptom of Apple’s overall disinterest in the macOS platform. While new Mac hardware is finally coming out, it’s been clear for a while that Apple’s heart and soul are in the iPhone and iOS. And that’s fine: companies need to pursue the most profitable products. But if Apple was able to make macOS into something as exciting and popular as iOS, surely that would move units.

2 comments

  1. “This means must-have applications like Flux can’t be distributed through the Mac App Store”
    The restrictive rules also mean that shady apps that plague other app stores cannot make their way into Mac App Store.

    “Can’t the Mac App Store Be Better?”
    Is there a compelling reason for it to be better? Fruitco has its users locked into a walled prison. The users have to take whatever Fruitco dishes out.

    1. “The restrictive rules also mean that shady apps that plague other app stores cannot make their way into Mac App Store.”

      I agree, but can’t Apple just maintain a whitelist of certified apps? That way, shady software can be avoided but good software like Flux can still be allowed. Apps are manually approved anyway, so they could take this into account.
      Or, if they really don’t want a whitelist, they could create an advanced section. I mean, like, you could go to System Settings and tick a box that you want to allow this kind of software to be searched for/to be available for install, just like you can tick a box to allow unsigned DMG’s to be installed. That way, the average unexperienced user doesn’t get into problems with shady software and stuff while more advanced users can still get this kind of software.
      And last, they could also make a few things opt-in. For example, running App A in the background needs manual permission (i.e. you need to go to System Settings and manually enable the background permission).

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