Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Mac App Store Opened Thursday...

...and so far I am a little underwhelmed by what it has to offer. But let's give it time. For those who were not waiting with bated breath like I was for this release, the Mac App Store is a new functionality of Mac laptops and desktops whereby you can access an App Store on your computer and download "Apps" (you must be running Snow Leopard 10.6 and then perform a Software Update-click on the Apple in the upper left corner- to access the App Store).

The definition of the word "App" is definitely evolving, [edit: at least from the perspective of us not-highly-technical people]. Before mobile devices there were Applications-web browsers, MS Office, or other games and programs installed on your computer. Mostly people called them programs. With the recent explosion in mobile technology, people developed a sense that an iPod Touch can do much more than play music, just as an iPhone or Android is more than a phone. This expansion of the devices' usefulness was due to the availability of Apps, mini-programs you can install on your phone to interact with the internet in focused ways (as the Pandora music App or Weather Channel does), or conduct off-line computing with Apps that don't need to be connected to the Internet continuously (say, Cookie Doodle or Angry Birds). At about the same time, we started to hear the term "Web App" which I think of as a website you can use to create something and save that data, such as Kerpoof or Blabberize, also known as "Web 2.0 tools." One advantage of all these types of Apps has been that they are focused and largely free or inexpensive.

So what's up with the expansion of the term "App" to mean something that you install on your computer? I am not sure what I think of this yet. First of all, let's take the Google Chrome web browser's "Apps" and "App Store" that popped up a few months ago. This is a screenshot of what I have installed in my Chrome browser so far:

My sense so far is that these Chrome Apps really are just bookmarks! The Google Reader App brings you- guess where- to Google Reader! No difference in the user interface. Some Apps, like Autodesk Homestyler, bring you, again, to an interactive website that has potential for a language project. Others, like PBS Kids Play, bring you to an entry portal for PBS content that you have to pay for. WHY would we do that at this point, when the PBS Kids website itself is so rich that I haven't even begun to mine it?

So this brings us to the Mac App Store, which as I said JUST opened. Surely not that many developers have undertaken the translation of their iOS apps to the Mac platform. Yet. And on first glance it has potential- these are real Apps, small, focused programs that will live on your computer and do a specific thing. I started with Twitter, which was free, and looks like this:

Well, I am not sure I want Twitter to look like this when I am sitting at my computer. If I wanted it to look this thin, I would look at it on my iPhone; on a large screen, in my opinion, it should take advantage of the real estate (Tweetdeck or the web version itself do fine for that). Other offerings in the education section of the Mac App Store included Stack the States (I have to review that one later), a fun geography game, and a cute paper doll app, Dress Up. Neither was free, but I am not opposed at all to paying a few bucks for a good app, and much more for one that has extensive clinical application. What I didn't like to see in the Mac App Store was the education section of the software aisle at Staples, and unfortunately I kinda did. There was a whole bunch of, to rename discreetly, "Bear Teaches 1st Grade Skills!" type of stuff, at hefty prices, and a reincarnation of the Living Books Series, which was nice to see for sure, but again perhaps not at this price point:

I suppose I am spoiled. People do need to make money. But I think as educators and clinicians we can do better given our limited funds, and I do trust/hope that the Mac App Store will do better also in time. But for now I will return to browsing the App Stores on my iPhone and iPad, and keep looking for free web sites for you to use! And let's keep calling an App an App.

Check out these well-written analyses of the good and bad points of the new Mac App Store.


  1. As more "freelance" or "DIY" software developers create apps, i'd expect the prices of software to drop. I wouldn't exactly expect a huge rise in educational software from these developers.

  2. This is a good point- the first wave in the Mac App Store is likely to be highly commercial and/or established names. i wasn't one of the first adopters of iPhone/iPod touch so I didn't really see what the store looked like at first. Thanks for the comment, Mikey!

  3. The Term "Web App" far pre-dates even the existence of mobile apps. It was a term I would guess coined approximately in the late 90s. However they weren't something the general computer users would have thought about.

    From a technical perspective there are a few things you can do in a Google App that you can't do just on the web.. so they are tiny bit more than bookmarks. However they are 3rd Class citizens where as the OSX Apps are 2nd Class Citizens that are real programs but highly restricted from many things that a real 1st Class OSX program can do.

    Freelance and 'DIY" software developers have been developing software and selling it since computers were invented as Freeware or Shareware or Donation funded software.

    What App Stores do is give purchases a little piece of mind that the App is legit (although plenty of Apps so less than ethical things). And they give the people making software a great distribution channel instead of just having a web page and hopefully having people find their stuff on the web.

    I don't think App Stores are really anything new. Websites like (pronounced two cows!) have been around forever and are essentially organized exactly like App Stores. Except of course you tried the apps for free and bought it directly from the producer if you liked it.

    The only difference is now the people running the App Stores are taking a cut of profits from the people writing the code. Mind you I don't think this is necessarily bad for the developers or consumers.

  4. Good perspectives, Brian, thanks- I didn't think about the connection between Apps and shareware. In the general population of computer users, you are right, the difference between apps, programs, and sites is very blurry but I think important to distinguish. A teacher the other day was referring to a website as a "program" to her class and I think that's problematic. For example, it doesn't help the kids understand that they have to upload the image into the site rather than just clicking-dragging it into the "program" like they would do with PPT. In fact, a number of them did click and drag onto the site (Glogster) despite instruction not to do so, and it forced Safari to show the image full-page, thus navigating away from the work they had done, which went unsaved! Anyway, it's semantics but importantly so, and thanks again for your insights from a developer perspective!

  5. You just gave me a great idea for a post. Back in the day (I am old!) we computer geeks used to play this game called Scorched Earth which was free ware written by some guy and was the Angry Birds of our day. It was a 2 player tank game with tons of different weapons, explosions and such. Of course the graphics weren't anywhere near todays standards this was in the early 90s after all. But it was a fun game and we wasted so much time playing it just like people do with Angry Birds.

  6. The term App is simply an abbreviation for application. Applications are all computer programs designed to assist or allow a user to accomplish some sort of task using the device on which it runs on. So, there is no "expansion of the term app" as you say. What Apple is doing is allowing the MAC OS to run applications coded for iOS via emulation. It is basically why the Twitter application window on the MAC looks like it's being displayed on an iPhone. Apple is trying to expand their user base of iOS applications to include MAC users that don't use "iDevices". By doing so Apple can increase its iOS based profit margin.

  7. The new App Store is in no way doing any emulation of iOS.

    iOS applications are written in the same language using a sub-set of the same technology that real OSX applications use.

    You will not see every iOS App showing up in the OSX App Store unless the developer ports or re-writes the app for OSX App Store. For many Apps this won't be a lot of work.

    Additionally the Apps will have to be submitted to the new App Store which is supposedly going to be more picky than the mobile App Store. So you probably won't be seeing 100 fart Apps in the OSX App Store.

    The OSX App Store is going to be a lot harder for Apple to keep closed as the Mac hardware isn't locked down like the iPhone. Reports are already in of hackers breaking the store to allow for you to install any app without paying.

  8. What I mean, really, is that for people who never referred to Applications per se, really the whole audience for this blog, the use of "App" brought more awareness, but also confusion, as to what is what. Google calling Reader an App adds confusion too, in my opinion, even if it has technically always been a "Web App," you know? Confusion is easy to create, yes, and bad. And Brian, here's to fewer fart apps!

  9. The Twitter "App" is really just a re-packaged version of an OSX "Program" that was already available. Here is a good writeup about it.

  10. Interesting, thanks- yeah I had Tweetie on my iPhone before it became the "official" Twitter app. Still torn on clients vs. the real thing on my Mac. This app definitely works best on iPad IMO 'cause you can pinch to zoom out and in on tweets to see different info such as profiles, pull to refresh, etc.

  11. Interesting point about semantics: