Developer Roundtable: The Mac App Store

I had a chance this week to talk with a few developers about the Mac App Store (s aapl) and what the launch yesterday means for their business. The general feeling is one of optimism, and even excitement, at the opportunities the store presents as a new way to distribute software on the desktop.

Below are a series of comments and insights from several top developers in the Mac community: Rich Siegel, founder and CEO of Bare Bones Software (Yojimbo, Textwrangler, and BBEdit), Gedeon Maheux, principal at Iconfactory (Twitterrific, Frenzic, etc.), Alykhan “AJ” Jetha, CEO of Marketcircle (Billings, Daylite, etc.), David Frampton, founder of Majic Jungle (Chopper 2) and Ken Case, CEO of The Omni Group (OmniFocus, OmniGraffle, OmniPlan, etc.).

Surprisingly United

These developers represent a pretty broad cross-section of solutions including developer tools like BBEdit, utilities like Twitterrific, business software like Billings, games like Chopper 2, and serious productivity tools like OmniGraffle Pro. What’s perhaps most interesting is how each one sees enormous opportunity for both “mass market” and “niche” solutions on the Mac App Store.

Why release through the Mac App Store?

When asked about why they chose to release their products on the Mac App Store, a general theme emerged. Most everyone was excited about getting in front of customers on the 20 million Snow Leopard Macs out there with a low-friction sales channel.

Rich Siegel, Bare Bones: “Folks who learn about our products through the Mac App Store are a welcome addition to our existing audience, particularly if they wouldn’t have become aware of our work otherwise.”

Gedeon Maheux, Iconfactory: “The sheer number of people who will be able to find your creations is exciting.”

AJ Jetha, Marketcircle: “The Mac App Store removes two friction points: downloading/installing and purchasing. That’s HUGE!”

David Frampton, Majic Jungle: “I was always planning to do a Mac version of Chopper 2 anyway, but the Mac App Store came along at just the right time, and being part of the launch was too big an opportunity to miss.”

Ken Case, The Omni Group: “The Mac App Store is the most convenient way to buy our software. Period.”

What are the advantages of the Mac App Store?

There are a number of advantages that these developers saw in distributing software through the App Store, like simpler licensing, management of serial numbers, and the ability to trust Apple to notify users of updates. The advantages are probably a little bigger for a small shop like Majic Jungle that had been using the shareware distribution model prior to the App Store’s launch.

Frampton: “I think historically many users have been scared of shareware and unsure of where to find and download apps. These users will now have the trust of Apple’s approval process and the single location to find apps, and so more users will be downloading more apps. It’s a perfect fit for Majic Jungle Software, which mostly focuses on games and entertainment apps with a broad appeal.”

What’s most exciting about the store?

When I asked what was most exciting about the App Store, many of the developers were optimistic about the convenience for customers. Apple has already developed a lot of trust with customers in running a software marketplace, which will make it easier for customers to buy at the new store. Gedeon Maheux captured a lot of my feelings about the App Store as a user.

Maheux: “For myself, I think the most exciting thing is there is now a place I can go to search specifically for Mac-based software. Before you had to a Google search (s goog), sort through the results, ask on Twitter, etc. The whole one-stop-shop approach is very appealing.”

Is the App Store a revolution in software distribution?

As to whether or not the Mac App Store was truly “revolutionary,” reaction was mixed:

Frampton: “Absolutely. It introduces a previously unviable business model, that of distributing ‘snack’ cheap apps with very specific tasks.”

AJ: “The iOS App Store was a revolution. The Mac App Store is just following in its footsteps, but it will be disruptive.”

Siegel: “So, it’s hard to give it full-fledged “revolution” status, but pretty easy to give it solid “evolution” status.”

How does the App Store compare to your existing sales process?

Maheux: “We really tried to make our sales process frictionless, but compared to Apple, it might as well be sandpaper. There really is no equal among online shopping experiences except maybe Amazon’s (s amzn) One-click checkout. Even Android can’t compete in this way with the App Store. It can’t be overstated.”

Case: “I view the Mac App Store as a replacement for the retail sales channel: It’s a place for consumers to go when they want to buy software.  And there couldn’t be less friction in their one-click purchasing process. Our own online store has a lot of flexibility the Mac App Store doesn’t offer, such as upgrade pricing and discounts for volume, bundle, and educational purchases.  But those options do lead to some extra complexity and friction.”

Siegel: “Products purchased using the Mac App Store interface are instantly downloaded, installed, and kept up to date for you. It’s hard to be lower friction than that.”

Will you market your products any differently to generate demand and push people towards the App Store?

Frampton: “I’ll be taking the same approach as I do on iOS. It basically comes down to managing your prices, updates and portfolio of apps, and taking any opportunities to cross-promote with other developers or announce new features to the press. It is a very different approach, but one that I am familiar with, and prefer.”

AJ: “We will still have to do marketing to drive awareness (especially after the buzz wears off), so this portion of the equation stays the same.”

Gedeon: “We won’t shy away from the fact that it’s also available on the App Store, but neither will we shift our entire focus there.”

Are you worried about a race to $0.99 with Mac App Store pricing?

Frampton: “The increase in customer numbers will make up for the lower price point in lower price games and apps with broad appeal. But on the flip side, niche apps with a focused markets can still price high or continue to distribute outside of the store.”

AJ: “People will eventually learn that you get what you pay for, but in the meantime …”

Maheux: “Naturally we are, but the iPad has demonstrated the ability to hold off price points above $0.99 so we’re encouraged that the Mac may be able to do this as well.”

Case: “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were another race to $0.99 — in fact, I fully expect one since some vendors clearly want the visibility that comes with being on their top 10 lists. But our iOS apps have done well without changing any prices, and I’m confident that our Mac apps will also”

Siegel: “Further erosion of pricing, we think, would be unsustainable for quality software. Quality erosion would be a very, very sad thing for the Mac eco-system generally. So, we hope companies are smart enough to charge a fair price, not exorbitant, but fair.”

Is the App Store only for impulse shopping?

Frampton: “Chopper 2 is very definitely targeted at the browsers, and Fluid Noise Generator is targeted at the hunters, and they are priced and marketed accordingly. I think there will be plenty of room for everyone to get along!”

AJ: “Our products are not for the impulse purchaser — we cater to people who want to build a successful business — so this type of thinking has not really entered our thought process.”

Maheux: “No, not really. All of our apps fill specific needs, mainly because we created them for us to fill our own needs as users.”

Siegel: “[Our customers] are more likely to do their homework before purchasing, and so we expect them to seek out curated reviews from journalists and domain experts, as well as anecdotes from multiple sources before buying.”

Bottom Line

While the Mac App Store represents a large shift in the landscape for Mac developers, the general consensus is that this is a good thing for everyone. It will be very interesting to see how developers choose to manage their products and promote themselves both within, and outside of,  the App Store itself.

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