Apple Mac App Store Opens January. It's Bad News for Developers

Last Updated Dec 16, 2010 5:00 PM EST

Apple (AAPL) announced that the Mac app store will open January 6. The company says that it hopes to make " discovering, installing and updating Mac apps easier than ever." However, a read through the Mac App Store review guidelines offers some hints as to what is in the developer's agreement and how much more than 30 percent of the software price independent software companies will have to give up.

A quick search brought up the Mac app store review guidelines. (The same contents were available on other Mac sites, as well.) Here are some of the issues that immediately jump out on a first reading:

  • Apps that exhibit bugs will be rejected. Oh? Will that include Apple software? How many applications could ship without any possibility of exhibiting a bug?
  • Apps that use non-public APIs will be rejected. That could mean rewriting for many developers.
  • Trial, test, demo, and beta applications are forbidden, which removes marketing tools that developers have used for decades.
  • Apps must be "useful" or provide "lasting entertainment value." In other words, Apple can control what type of software reaches the market.
  • No third party installers allowed.
  • Apps cannot install code or data in shared locations -- everything gets its own set of walls.
  • You can't update an app outside of the store. That means developers don't get to create independent relationships with customers and have a revenue stream that doesn't require Apple taking continued cuts.
  • You can't sell an app that requires optionally installed software such as Java or Rosetta.
  • There will be no automatically running code on user start-up or login.
  • No adding an app icon to the Dock.
  • If the code has metadata that even mentions another computer platform, it's rejected.
  • Icons and screenshots that don't comply with an age 4+ rating are rejected.
  • No location-based API use for dispatch, fleet management, or emergency services.
  • Apps that look similar to Apple products get rejected.
  • No changing the native user interface elements or behaviors of Mac OS X.
  • No creating a store internal to the app to sell the developer's products.
  • Offensive or mean-spirited commentary is prohibited unless from "professional political satirists and humorists." (Do you need a union card?)
According to Steve Jobs, the Mac app store would not be the only way to sell Mac applications. However, there is a concern among some developers that this might become the only game in town when Mac OS 11 is released.

Practically speaking, that won't matter. Niche software known to a specific audience could draw buyers through other venues, but the growing number of consumers who have bought Macs, particularly after being introduced by first owning an iPhone, will likely default to the official app store. Sales channels outside of Apple will quickly become marginalized.

There will also be pressure to keep the prices down. Not only will the consumer dynamics of iTunes hold, but "In general, the more expensive your app, the more thoroughly we will review it." Want to get through easy? Make the software cheap.

Yup, Apple will indeed make everything different. Again.

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Image: RGBStock.com user lusi, site standard license.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.