A Tale of Two Developers (and the Mac App Store)

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The Mac App Store, not even 48 hours old, has already set off small ripples and large waves of change across the Mac OS X development space. From Thursday every single new Mac user knows the Mac App Store as the primary place to purchase software. Even long-time users such as myself will slowly adapt. In the not-too-distant future of Mac software development not being on the App Store will about the same as not existing at all.

Given that it is installed by default on every new Mac (and every Mac updated to 10.6.6), it comes as little surprise that many developers are moving to App Store exclusivity, forgoing the Old Ways of custom-brewed payment and serial number systems. For users this is basically only good. I click on the app, confirm I want to pay for it, and it’s there on my computer in the expected place. All done. No more worrying about Disk Images .vs. Zip files, or any of the other dozen (now) archaic issues distributors and users of third-party software have had to deal with. As a person who buys software for his Mac, this is entirely a Win.

However, as a person who already owns a pretty decent amount of software for my Mac, there is a real turd in the punchbowl. For developers who have already created and shipped their apps before the Mac App Store existed, Apple has what some might call a “sweet solution“: pretend it didn’t happen. Apple provides no way for users of who have already purchased a software title to “migrate” this software to the App Store version. One of my own most-used pieces of software is a web developer tool called Coda. It costs $99, which I’ve already paid, and is not a small sum. Were Panic, the developers of Coda, to decide to now switch to the App Store as the exclusive means of distributing their apps, I would be be shit out of luck.*

One needn’t resort to hypotheticals like the one described above. Two real examples of this are CoverSutra, an app for controlling iTunes which lives in your menu bar, and TapeDeck, an analog-styled audio recorder. The developers of these apps are small and independent. Both of these developers have been on the Mac for some time, and previously used serial numbers to authenticate copies of their software. Both companies promised free updates (of some kind) to their applications for users who registered. Both developers are now moving towards App Store exclusivity, with one key difference: Sophiestication Software is dropping support for non-App Store users, including those who previously purchased the software and were promised free upgrades up to (not including) version 3.0. SuperMegaUltraGroovy, while discontinuing sales TapeDeck outside of the App Store, are continuing to support users who have already purchased the software with the (promised) free updates in the 1.x line.

SuperMegaUltraGroovy’s track is the hard one. As a small developer with very limited resources, supporting two payment systems is twice the pain. Odds are high that this will cut into their development time somewhat, and will most likely cost them money in the short-term. But I (and obviously, they) think it’s the right thing to do.

If the comments section of the blog post announcing CoverSutra’s exclusivity is any indication, their users feel the same way. Sophiestication promised purchasers of CoverSutra free updates until it hit version 3.0. Then, this week, version 2.5 was announced as an App Store exclusive application, cutting off those users who’d been promised the updates to 3.0. These users now feel cheated, and lied to. In their zeal to get CoverSutra out and on the App Store, Sophiestication has effectively fed a shark sandwich to the customers who got them there.

We won’t know for a long time if their respective strategies financially hurts or helps either of these companies. We do know that one company has customers angry and being left behind, one doesn’t, and people have a habit of not forgetting these sorts of things. When dealing with users of any kind of software or service, sentiment is king. And right now, the prevailing sentiments for TapeDeck and CoverSutra couldn’t be more different.


Footnotes

* Luckily, Panic has no plans to do so, and I’m not surprised. Their checkout/serial/support service has always been best-in-class for the Mac, and they’ve obviously got their stuff pretty much down.

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My name is Phil Nelson and I make beautiful objects for a troubled world. I'm a designer / developer / writer / director / editor / narrator at Occipital.

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