Looking forward to the Mac App Store

by Ken Case on October 21, 2010

I think the Mac App Store is going to be a huge boon for Mac consumer software, and we're looking forward to publishing the same suite of Omni Group apps on the Mac App Store that we've been busy bringing to the iPad App Store:  OmniFocus, OmniGraffle, OmniGraphSketcher, OmniOutliner, and OmniPlan.

The Mac App Store will be a much, much better app buying experience than any option consumers currently have:  you'll be able to experiment with buying software from developers you don't know without worrying about whether they will be careful with your billing information, or whether they might even be shipping you malware.  You won't have to figure out how to install the software or any of its future updates.  (The standard mechanisms for distributing Mac software electronically have a poor user experience, whether they're distributed as disk images, zip files, or Installer packages.)  The standards Apple will be enforcing for apps listed in the store will set a baseline for overall quality and make it less likely that apps will interfere with each other.  And, of course, a central Mac App Store makes it far easier for you to find all sorts of current, supported software in the first place.

The App Store is also great from the independent developer's point of view:  we don't have to figure out how to build our own online stores (or find someone else to distribute our software), or how to distribute license keys or scale up our websites and bandwidth to handle lots of downloads if we suddenly get written up by a popular reviewer.  Those of us who are already established in the Mac market have already built up a lot of this infrastructure, of course, so this benefit may not be as important to us as it is to new developers.  But we'll benefit from a strong, healthy, growing market for Mac apps.

And while it's new to the Mac, we know the App Store works well for consumers:  we've sold tens of thousands of copies of our iOS apps in just the last few months.

Not that there aren't plenty of questions and challenges.  The App Store doesn't currently have any mechanism for offering discounted pricing to certain customers, so what do we do for our OmniGraffle 5 customers who want to upgrade to OmniGraffle 6 on the App Store?  Or for people who want to upgrade from Standard to Pro?  (Do we even list Standard and Pro as separate apps on the store, or do we try to combine them?)  How do we handle sales to organizations which want a discount for purchasing 100 licenses?  How do we take care of customers who have an older system which can't run the latest version of our app, but could run an older version if we could get it to them?  How do we handle trial software?  Should the product pages on our website point at our own online store or the App Store—or both?

And on top of all these questions, of course, is one I've seen a lot of other developers asking: is all this worth giving Apple 30% of our revenue?

Managed hosting and payment processing are worth something, certainly, but I think the real benefit is that our software is far more likely to reach consumers who otherwise simply wouldn't see it.  To date we've tried to reach consumers by placing our software in retail channels, where the split is much worse:  you're lucky if you clear 50%.  Not to mention that retail is completely impractical for software under $20, since there's so much overhead involved with printing boxes and CDs, warehousing them, shipping them, updating them when you ship new versions, etc.  Finally, even once you've resigned yourself to the cost of getting there and you've finally made it onto retail store shelves, it turns out that the retail experience isn't great for finding software anyway—its only benefit is that it's somewhere the average consumer knows to look.  (Or at least it's somewhere they used to look; but with cheap software cut out of the picture, limited shelf space, and so on, I'm guessing fewer and fewer people bother!)

But the App Store changes all that:  it offers a much more efficient distribution channel, where everyone on the platform will know to look.  You can easily browse around, or search for something specific.  When you find something you want, you simply click "Buy Now" and the app starts downloading and adds itself on your Dock.  No more futzing about with figuring out how to buy something from yet another vendor's website, tracking license keys, and so on.  You just find what you want, buy it, and start using it.

That's the experience we'd like all our customers to have, and that's why we're looking forward to publishing our apps in the Mac App Store.

10/24 UPDATE: From the comments, it seems some people are assuming that we're planning to stop selling software directly, i.e. to only offer our software through the Mac App Store. Sorry if that wasn't clear: we do intend to keep selling software from our own site as well, where we're able to offer trial downloads as well as discounts for upgrades, bundles, and volume purchases. We view the Mac App Store as a great alternative to retail stores (which have all those same limitations), not as a replacement for our own site (which doesn't). (Also, to be clear, we plan to charge the same list price both on our store and in the Mac App Store, just as we charge the same list price on our store and in retail.)