This week marks the launch of the Mac App Store, Apple’s new digital distribution platform for the Mac. The interface is clearly based on that of the iPhone and iPad app store and offers easy searching, user reviews, and one-click installs. When you find an app you want, just click the ‘Install’ button and the icon literally jumps into the dock. A progress bar below the icon indicates when the download is finished, and the app is ready to run. Updates are handled through the Mac App Store, similarly to system software updates. This is a great improvement over the old method, where every application handles updates in its own fashion. With the Mac App Store, your Mac can easily update all your 3rd party software from one central location. This is a significant reason, even for the authors of free software, to use the Mac App Store.
I spent a few hours experimenting with the store and installing apps. The ability to easily browse through apps, download them from a reputable source, and install them with a single click is going to very quickly make the Mac App Store the dominant means of acquiring software for the Mac. I found all sorts of interesting programs that I didn’t know existed or had forgotten about. There are classics like Fetch, and Kid Pix that have been around since the 80′s. The Omni Group has their complete line of software present, and there are many applications from popular developers like Boinx Software, SmileOnMyMac, and Bare Bones Software.
Many of Apple’s own applications are available at a substantial discount from retail. iWork package, which consists of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, costs $79 retail. Each app is available individually from the App Store, for $19.99 apiece. iPhoto is available for $14.99 – a substantial savings over $49 for iLife, for people who aren’t interested in the other applications. Aperture, Apple’s professional photo editing and management app, is marked down from $199 to $79.99, and Apple Remote Desktop has dropped from $499 to $79.99.
As confident as I am about the App Store’s future, the user interface is quite rough. The first thing you’re likely to notice is that the application doesn’t have a traditional title bar. Instead, it has a toolbar that extends to the very top of the window. The close, minimize, and zoom buttons are not in the upper left hand corner, but are centered vertically in the toolbar, inline with the navigation buttons. This is a nonstandard interface that is not in compliance with the Apple Human Interface Guidelines (see chapter 14). This is particularly ironic because Apple requires third-party developers to abide by these guidelines, if they want their application included in the Mac App Store. The approval guidelines specifically state:
6.3 Apps that do not use system provided items, such as buttons and icons, correctly and as described in the Apple Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines will be rejected.
A far greater problem is how easy it is to accidentally purchase an application. Most store pages, such as the Featured page that loads on launch, are filled with little ’Buy’ buttons. Each time you launch, you’re required to enter your Apple ID for the first app you purchase (or free app that you download). After the first purchase, subsequent purchases are a single click – when you click ‘Buy’, your credit card is automatically charged, and the application installed.
This wouldn’t be such a big issue if the App Store wasn’t so sluggish. I performed a search in the App Store yesterday. The search results loaded, and I didn’t see what I was looked for, so I clicked the ‘Featured’ button in the toolbar. It takes about a second for a page to load, and in that second, I saw a link to a product that interested me and clicked on it. In a web browser, that would have stopped the Featured page from loading and instead loaded on the new page. In the Mac App Store, by contrast, that click isn’t recorded until the new page has loaded. Effectively, you’re clicking on something you haven’t seen yet. In my case, all I saw was the icon for Reflow, a musical notation application, jumping into my dock. Did it cost me something? I loaded the Reflow page, but where the price used to be, it simply displayed the word ”Installed”. I checked the ‘Purchases’ button in the toolbar. Reflow was listed there, but again without price. I checked my ‘Account Information’ page, but couldn’t find the information there, nor did I receive an email saying I’d been charged. I finally did a Google search for ‘Mac App Store Invoice’ and found an Apple Support Page stating that, to if I wanted to see my purchase history I had to view it in… iTunes. So I checked my music player application, and sure enough, I’d been billed $10.
There’s a link at the bottom of each App Store page that goes to a FAQ and states Apple’s Refund policy:
If you experience a technical issue with an app, first contact the developer for assistance. Their support contact information can be found on the app’s page in the App Store. If that does not resolve the issue, contact App Store Customer Support.
I tried to click on the Support URL, but it wasn’t a link. Next I tried to select it, so I could copy and paste. The text was not selectable. So I opened a browser window, put it and the Mac App Store window side by side, and retyped the URL in my browser. I filled out the refund request form explaining the situation and at this point am still waiting for a reply, although it’s been longer than the promised 24 hours. I’m fortunate the app I inadvertently clicked on cost only $10, and not, say, $700, like Seven Lake’s Distribute application does. With the Mac App Store, it’s possible to spend $700 with a single mis-click. I recommend sitting on your hands while you wait for pages to completely load.
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