The next decade looks set to be the decade of the App Store. Apple, which has sold over five billion applications through its iPhone and iPad app store, recently announced that it was to launch a similar service as part of its desktop operating system. This means that users will be able to access a window from inside OS X that will display a set of preapproved applications for the Mac.
This joins an App Store for Google's Chrome browser and operating system, which will present users with a selection of web-based applications, effectively providing an implicit endorsement.
Google already offers an App Store for the Android operating system, of course. One of the significant characteristics of that arrangement is that it lets third parties offer their own App Stores for Android. Amazon is close to launching its own, according to rumours, and challengers like AndSpot and SlideMe are doing the same.
What does this mean for developers? It is a mixed blessing. Depending on how these app stores run, they can be an incredible marketing tool, or a barrier to market entry. Anyone can list an application on the Android store, making it easy to get your application in front of phone users. On the other hand, that can reduce the reliability of the store overall, as malware and spyware vendors creep in.
On the other hand, Apple has a reputation for a Draconian approach to its App Store. Until it opened up its development guidelines, making its criteria for applications clear (or, at least, clearer), its approvals process was a largely unknown quantity. If it liked you, you were accepted. If it didn't, you were rejected with little opportunity for complaint. Steve Jobs has gone on the record as saying that he values the chance to keep things like pornography off his iOS platform. On the other hand, the approvals process can cause unexpected problems. For example, any companies needing to fix bugs in their iOS applications can wait days or weeks to roll out, incurring reputational damage from angry users in the meantime. I have experienced this with iPhone applications that performed poorly until Apple allowed through a fix.
Right now, it appears that the Apple OS X App Store will be non-exclusive. Unlike the iOS store, It won't be the only way to get applications, which can still be downloaded directly from the Internet for the OS X platform. However, when shown a pane filled with applications that Apple has deemed appropriate for its platform, how many users will go looking elsewhere? And how much power does that put in Apple's hands?
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