The Mac App Store in depth

Sections: Apple News, Apple Online and Retail Store, Apple Software, Features, Hands On / First Looks, Mac Software, Originals

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App Store Welcome Screen

In case you missed it, the Mac App Store launched today. Promising to bring iOS’s easy app-discovery process to your Mac desktop, the App Store is available as of today with over 1,000 apps right out of the gate. Here is all you need to know to get started!

Wherefore art thou, App Store?

The App store will be built in to Mac OS X 10.7, but for existing 10.6 users it is available as a system update. Rather than being available as a download from, the App Store is installed as part of the 10.6.6 update through OS X’s Software Update feature. This will likely be the first growing pain for many users, who are accustomed to checking Apple’s web site for new software. [Ed. Check our How to get the Mac App Store article to learn how to install and set up the Mac App Store.] Once installed, you will see the new App Store icon nestled snugly in the dock next to the Finder icon, as well as in the Applications folder on your hard drive. In addition to the application, a new background service called “storeagent” runs at startup, connecting to several domains as well as – likely Apple’s mechanisms for pushing updates and tracking app store performance.

App Store Storeagent

Where’s the beef?

Launch the App Store, and it feels immediately familiar. Ever shopped in iTunes? Then you already know exactly what to do in the App Store, right down to the icon design for Featured Apps and Updates, as well as the “Staff Favorites” section that mirrors the experience in the iTunes store. The majority of free apps in the store are clients of some sort, for connecting to services like Twitter or Evernote, though there are a few standout freeware utilities that previously toiled in obscurity, such as StuffIt Expander.

On the Paid side of the store, most apps fall under important psychological thresholds—iPhoto for $14.99 feels like an impulse buy rather than a major purchase. Developers will likely have an easier time selling their wares, especially once high-quality programs start getting good reviews and filter up to the top lists. Some surprises are also in store, most obviously a cheaper version of Aperture. Apperture is a $199 boxed software product (still for sale in the online Apple Store as of 1/6/2011), but it is only $79 in the App Store. Lower prices should be available all around, with no manufacturing, shipping, stocking, or sales tax costs in the mix.

Shining Stars

With the App Store, prepare to say sayonara to the bundle. Packaged apps like iLife and iWork suites are no longer sold in bundled-form only, which is great for people who do not need all the functionality. As a photographer, I have long bristled at the idea of paying for Garageband with each iPhoto update, as I have never composed a song in my life. That irritation is now thankfully gone. Total prices for these individual apps are also currently less than their bundled-and-boxed counterparts: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are each $20, while a boxed version of iWork goes for $80. Hopefully other developers will follow Apple’s pricing!

In addition to offering lower prices, the App Store is already delivering on the promise of making great software easier to find. Two outstanding photography titles are easily available now: FotoMagico and Pixelmator. Pixelmator has been previously reviewed here on Appletell, but the program still suffered a deplorable lack of visibility. Some standby iOS favorites, like Angry Birds are also making their way to the desktop, which heralds the further integration of Apple’s mobile and desktop computing experiences.

There you have it. The Mac App Store could not be simpler to navigate, as it uses common navigation control from the iOS App Store and iTunes. With lower prices, which are good for consumers, and wider visibility, which is good for developers, the App Store looks like a win-win experience all around. There are plenty of random apps available (already three fireplace-simulation apps are available), but lots of quality software is also available. Hopefully big name devs like Filemaker and Microsoft will join the party, meaning Mac users will have an incredible one stop shop for software.

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  • Tesselator

    This is quite bad news for those who value their privacy and a terrible direction Apple is taking in general. I hope Apple wakes up to the realization that Mac personal computers are not iPhones and that Apple's customers have very different expectations for the two products when it comes to privacy issues and invasive marketing tactics. There's already a lot of efforts in the developer community to to get rid of or disable this "new feature".