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Ask HN: Why don't big softwares use App Store on Mac OS X?
35 points by philshem 71 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments
It's rare that a useful software app is available through the App Store on Mac OS X (Slack and Microsoft Remote Desktop are my only two). For example, Microsoft office has their own tool for updates. Firefox and Chrome have an internal updater.

Why don't more software not use it?

If you rely on the App Store, Apple has complete control over your distribution channel and take a large cut of your income.

Not only do they have control over your distribution channels, but the rules they impose change over time, forcing people into whatever Apple wants. There was a blog post on HN a while back where an App update was rejected because they failed to hype up the new iPad Pro's or another post where an App was rejected because (by sheer chance) somewhere the description referred to "an unreleased product".

The only real benefit is that it might bring your software in front of a lot of eyes, which, as a big player, you don't really need that much.

I think the "lots of eyes" really only apply to the iOS App Store. sales on the Mac App Store aren't that great from what I've read. As a Mac user I know I never use it, expect when some link from an application website sends me direct to it.

I use it for small utilities, so they are kept up-to-date and I don't need to fish them out when re-installing (which happens unfortunately every year on my corporate Mac)

Just missing a Cloud (Dropbox/iCloud) HomeBrew configuration and I would be set for the essentials.

As parent said big stuff don't need to exposure, and anyway, as a developer most of those stuff wouldn't make it to the appstore anyway.

edit: also forgot licensing. I rather buy it on the AppStore so I'm also avoiding having to fish the license email and/or create an account with whatever utils company.

`brew bundle dump` will be your new best friend. https://github.com/Homebrew/homebrew-bundle

For the browsers (e.g. Chrome and Firefox), there is no revenue so it should be free to offer through the App Store. Or not?

edit: For browsers, may be related to not using appropriate webkit framework. see comment https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18399518

Updates are fucked then because Apple takes like three weeks to "OK" an update.

According to http://appreviewtimes.com, the average wait time for approval in the Mac App Store is 1 day

The site you linked uses tweets with certain hashtags related to publishing in the app store as "data". This is highly inaccurate, not statistically profound, biased, easily manipulated and not conformable.

(That's why you're downvoted, probably)

True, but it's also "all we've got" and from my experience, the review times reported are accurate to within a day

One big reason is that a lot of big, old, monolithic software doesn’t deal well with the concept of sandboxing, and the Mac App Store requires that apps have sandboxing enabled. Adobe for example installs junk all over your system with creative suite apps, and that wouldn’t be allowed with sandboxing on. Many system APIs are also restricted or unavailable with sandboxing on.

Since Adobe products aren't strictly necessary for any of my work, that's the primary reason I use alternatives now: the junk all over the system, the constant calls home for updates, and the hidden little launchers.

Same here, I steer clear of Adobe where I can. I have licenses for Pixelmator, Affinty Photo, Sketch, and Affinity Designer. Between the four my needs are always met and their combined cost is both static and lower than what a CC subscription would mount up to.

What alternatives do you use for Premiere and After Effects?

This might be peripheral, but I use ScreenFlow not only for screen casting, but also surprisingly robust video editing (from blank canvas).

Apple Final Cut and Motion

Maybe have a look at Davinci Resolve.

Are you a fan of the Affinity products?

Huge fan! Earlier versions of Designer were buggy, but it's improving. It's still not great at .ai imports though.

At this point I wonder how loathe Adobe would be to lose the promotional channel direct to their users that their current model offers. Half the time when the Adobe installer raises an alert it’s to say “hey check out this webinar” instead of “software update time” and I hate it.

I will certainly agree that their stuff is gonna need a lot of work before it can live in nice tight little packages. It sprawls everywhere, it needs places to put plugins and their files, changing this is a big enough task that it probably qualifies as a major feature for a new release and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it be unstable around some edge cases for months

At WWDC 2018, Apple announced that Office, Photoshop, and several other big apps would be coming to/back to the Mac App Store. I found this really interesting because I wondered what had changed, but the companies involved have been tight-lipped about it so far. To my knowledge, none of these have been added to the store yet but presumably are still planned to: https://appleinsider.com/articles/18/06/04/mac-app-store-get...

I bet Apple has agreed to take a 0% cut of big companies's products, just to incentivize other developers to publish on the AppStore.

They might have. Does seem like they'd be priming themselves for backlash if that were confirmed.

Mostly because they don't want to bet their farm on Apple's whims and the huge tax burden of 30% plus all the tech and rituals Apple imposes.

The selling point of the iOS App Store to developers is, “what other choice do you have?” The Mac App Store doesn’t have that advantage.

Actually it's not just that. I believe sometimes people forget what enormous achievement it was to have _one_ centralized repo for all the apps a fragile, mobile device can have. Without AppStore, the dark ages of Symbian suddenly come into mind. And sure, Apple has had a number of flaws when it comes to AppStore policies and regulations, but part of Apple's sternness and rigidness is well justified, given the myriad of apps it has to serve, and safety and security of billions of devices that run those apps.

It’s arguably an advantage for users. But not necessarily for developers.

It's a complicated issue to be sure, but developers also benefit from a platform that has high trust among users. I think users are probably much more likely to try out new apps and even pay for them if they know ahead of time that the apps been vetted, the payment processor is secure (and already has your details), etc.

Not that there isn't crap on the iOS App Store, but I don't think it's controversial to suggest that the Good to Bad App ratio is better there than on the web as a whole.

And for some devs and some apps that’s worth giving up a 30% cut and dealing with Apple’s processes and restrictions. For some it won’t be, if they can distribute the app any other way.

Wild guess:

2.5.6: Apps that browse the web must use the appropriate WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript. -> Firefox is No-No

5.2.5: Apple Products: Don’t create an app that appears confusingly similar to an existing Apple product, interface (e.g. Finder), app (such as the App Store, iTunes Store, or Messages) or advertising theme.


Yet Slack is an app you can download directly from the App store...

There is a difference, though (not related to the subject matter in GP's post, but related to sandboxing). You can download Slack from the App Store, but you can't give mouse access to viewers when screen sharing unless you download the app from their site. Just something I ran into last week.

My bad! I misread OP.

The point still stands for FFx though...

You can’t browse the web using Slack.

Slack is in no way “confusingly similar” with iMessages.

But it uses electron (I.e. chromium.)

Yes, but it doesn't browse the web.

Technically it does - it's just locked to a single website.

One reason is to bypass the sandboxing requirement of the App Store.

And once you're off the App Store, users won't be nagged to update your application, so you're responsible for getting your users to update all by yourself. At which point some form of over-the-air update is more ergonomic than making users hit your download page to pull in the latest version.

I'd say that the app store works best for relatively small apps and developers, where the 30% tax is worthwhile when weighed against all the infrastructure they would need to roll themselves.

By comparison, Ableton, Adobe, etc, aren't having any trouble shifting units as it is, they have more than enough labour power to run their own infra, and they don't stand to gain anything by handing 30% of their revenue to Apple.

Perhaps the question should be flipped, what would these companies gain from distributing via the app store?

Several of the games that I’ve purchased through the Mac App Store are from big developer houses and weigh in at well over a gigabyte.

Why give Apple money if you don't have to?

Because the choice is between spending it on your own infrastructure or Apple's infrastructure. There is no free lunch.

Your own infrastructure doesn't cost 30% of revenue.

Often it costs much more indeed.

The bigger questions is why do any software developers agree to take part in app stores that attempt to lock users and developers into their operating system?

No, it's not, because an app designed for multiple operating systems can be distributed in whatever way you like. On distribution method doesn't exclude another, just like running it on one OS doesn't exclude it from another.

At the same time, you can also put your app in the AppStore and provide a non-AppStore version on a website.

I have been using a Mac exclusively for years and I have never once even logged into the App Store. Don't need it. Never once did I need something that was found only on the App Store.

My Mac complains that I need to log in in order to update apps that I never use such as Pages.

You can just delete those apps.

The cut off the top is the biggest reason. See fortnight as an example - this is an excellent case to look at to understand incentives of skirting around Google and Apple's stores, even if inconvenient to end users. If a user wants the software (eg if the demand is significant enough) the inconvenience to the user may not be a factor. For the rest of us... The App store as a platform is too powerful to ignore. https://www.theverge.com/2018/8/3/17645982/epic-games-fortni...

The same reason many apps don't use the iOS AppStore to monetize... Apple's tax and the high friction of your business customers doing business with them.

If you sell software for businesses, it's pretty painful to actually buy software with their volume programs.

Both Slack and Remote Desktop are free apps that access non-free resources on the back end.

But the App Store isn’t exclusive. I know that 1Password had multiple version depending on if you download it from the App Store or download it from the web. (ie The license keys were different.) You can always sell the large packages via the web, and the small ones through the App Store.

Depending on the app, that's problematic. For a low cost thing like 1Password, you can do that and even benefit as customers who are price sensitive will buy Apple gift cards at a 10-20% discount.

A company like Abobe has high value software and large customers who will not accept a single source fulfillment vendor for software. A school district, for example, is usually required to get competitive bids on a state or other contract from multiple resellers. Usually companies drive revenue by bundling, so putting product A with Apple and product B with the channel is complex and doesn't add value, particularly when Apple wants 4-6x more dollars to do that fulfillment.

While I understand bundling, what I don't understand is why bundling is relevant here. If you're at the position to be placing bids, you've already chosen a bespoke price for the product (either by explicitly stating a price, or throwing stuff in for "free").

None of the precludes simply selling the very same code product (sans bundle) on the App Store at a price that's higher than your bid price. Doing so, increases sales (perhaps marginally, but more is more, and the opportunity cost is trivial), and it makes your bid price appear even lower.

The reason why Adobe doesn't bother is because they're a household name. People that want Photoshop, will just google it and go to their page and download it directly. The 30% acquisition cost simply isn't worth it when you've already cornered the market.

But Adobe is an outlier. They own a verb. Most people aren't in that position.

Apple can update the guidelines anytime, sometimes forcing you to drop some features. Expo's iOS client had to drop QR code reading: https://blog.expo.io/upcoming-limitations-to-ios-expo-client...

Doesn't Apple take a substantial cut of anything sold through its app store?


30% of $0 is $0. The App Store is a great way to distribute freeware.

TL;DR The app stores are messy to deal with and come with many restrictions that shouldn't be there, considering they're completely Apple's solutions, and Apple could do a whole lot more within its control (but has not been doing so far after all these years). Conversely, the only reason the App Store on iOS and tvOS are used is because there's no other way to distribute the apps to a large base of customers (at least for non-jailbroken devices).

Why many apps don't use the Mac App Store:

1. It's primarily because software distribution on the Mac had different mechanisms maintained by developers for decades (or from before the iOS App Store and the Mac App Store came to be). Many old time customers are used to buying direct from developers and having a way to have a direct contact with the developer. For example, AgileBits (maker of 1Password) had to go back to retaining its own sale/distribution mechanisms after declaring that it's going MAS only because of long standing customer backlash (and probably acknowledging that it was anyway forced to maintain this for its Windows app at that time).

2. The App Store on iOS is deficient in many ways, when you consider that it doesn't allow (easily implemented) trials, upgrades, etc., that many users from the PC/Mac computers side are used to. The Mac App Store is even worse than that. Read this mess about free trials on the App Store (iOS) from a few months ago (June 2018), written by developer Daniel Jalkut of MarsEdit fame. [1]

3. The sandboxing restrictions that just don't work for several apps, means it's too much of a hassle to change (or cripple) one's app just so it can be distributed by/through Apple.

4. The 30% cut that Apple takes is probably a lot higher for developers who already have had a system in place for a long time. But some newer developers have moved to the Mac App Store as the only means of distribution (Pixelmator is a popular and notable example that went MAS only and has stayed that way).

5. For developers who care more about customer relations, Apple's country restricted stores and the lack of portability mean that a user who moves from one country to another would usually have to go through some confusing ways of updating apps bought from a previous country. As for subscriptions and in-app purchases, those cannot even be transferred, AFAIK. Even now, subscriptions cannot even be canceled before they expire (you'd have to contact Apple for that and try to work it out). The app stores are completely Apple owned and controlled, but yet they don't have any easy solution for people who travel or move to another country (or to other countries) either temporarily or permanently.

[1]: https://bitsplitting.org/2018/06/06/ersatz-free-trials/

+1 I am a small developer with a niche audience (firefighter training, simsushare.com) that has a cross-platform app. Most of my audience is Windows and iOS, but I do need Mac as well.

I don't really need Apple to help with marketing the app, so paying 30% on the Mac App store is way too much for me. On iOS, it is necessary because there is no alternative. Also, my simulation tool has an enterprise subscription, which means Apple can say yes or no and meddle with my business model. Too many restrictions!

Now Apple is saying I have to get my app notarized for Mojave. I don't quite understand why I have to do that in addition to the $99/year I pay for the Mac code sign. Bottom line is that I'm not making a killing by any means and Apple is hurting me by adding all the technical restrictions and financial constraints.

Because if you're a platform for general purpose computing, it's a really bad idea to restrict what kind of software ISVs may write and then charge them for the privilege. This is also why so few major apps are available for or bought through the Windows Store. If Apple and Microsoft try to force the issue... well, the year they try will become the long-awaited Year of the Linux Desktop.

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