Last week saw Apple’s much anticipated release of it’s latest and supposedly greatest operating system; Mac OS X 10.7 (codenamed Lion). When Apple publicly announced Lion, back in October, they pitched it as “coming back to the Mac”; which is Apple’s own way of admitting that they’ve been somewhat neglecting their big cats in favour of their mobile platform iOS. Apple, in their own words, have been bringing the skills and tricks that they’ve learned whilst developing iOS into OS X itself. Aside from the obvious multi-gesture support and iOS like GUI overhaul, the main feature that Apple have brought from iOS into OS X is the introduction of a Mac App Store. Apple officially announced the Mac App Store in October 2010, it was then later launched in January 2011. According to Apple the Mac App Store is now the biggest software selling platform in the US. The benefits to having a store for software or ‘Apps’ built right into an OS are very clear. Developers have an easy and direct gateway to would be customers, consumers find it much easier to discover new apps and have them all ready to download in one convenient place. What do Apple get from building the OS X App Store though?
Apple like their own universe, they like to be in control. If we look through Apple’s product line and past we can see this. Apple’s operating system, OS X, is only commercially available on Apple manufactured computers. Apple’s commercial software, such as Final Cut Pro and iLife, only work on Apple’s operating system. Most famously though, of course, only Apple approved apps are allowed to run on its iOS powered devices (iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches). Apple claims that by only allowing Apple sanctioned apps onto iOS, obtained through it’s iOS App Store, that it can control the quality and security of the platform. Other operating systems, such as Android, allow users to install their apps from many other repositories much like they can on their personal computers. Whilst the reasoning for a quality controlled and ‘secure’ platform can be understood, the motivation for the iOS App Store is (most likely) financially driven. We can safely assume that the same is true for the reasoning behind the Mac App Store, it’s a financially driven inclusion.
For every purchase that you make through the Mac App Store and the iOS App Store, Apple receives a 30% cut of the revenue. Initially this may not seem like much, but when you factor in that paid upgrades and In App Purchases are also subject to this 30% cut rule, it adds up. With the Mac App Store Apple have created a centralised platform for all applications that run on their operating system. All updates are delivered through the Mac App Store, all add-on purchases are made through the Mac App Store; complete control is in Apple’s hands. If Apple doesn’t believe that an app should be on its operating system then it doesn’t grant it permission to be featured in the Mac App Store. Independent app developers who build applications that infringe on Apple’s strict guidelines, or those who object to Apple taking a 30% cut of their revenue, are forced to offer their apps through other distribution means; usually the internet or physical distribution. However, how much longer are these alternative methods of distribution available?
Unlike OS X the only official way to install applications on the iOS platform is to obtain them through Apple’s very own iOS App Store. There are signs, however, that OS X will soon be following suit. In the Apple keynote given at WWDC 2011, Phill Schiller (Senior Vice President, Apple Inc) stated that applications in Lion will now be able to run in a sandboxed mode. Changes to Apple’s guidelines and documentation for developers state that within the future applications on the Mac won’t have direct access to the operating system’s file structure, very much like on iOS. Instead applications will have to make a request to an Apple API to access the file system indirectly. These are seemingly quite innocent changes to the way that applications and the operating system work together, however it does hint to one potentially major change that could be coming in the next major iteration of Apple’s OS X… Applications may not be obtained, installed, or otherwise acquired through any means other than Apple’s official Mac App Store.
Apple, despite sitting on the Board of Directors for the Blu-ray Disc Association (the official consortium that develops and licenses Blu-ray Disc technology), started to phase out their optical drives in their computers in 2008 with the introduction of the MacBook Air. With the latest refresh of the Mac Mini line the optical drive has disappeared from there too. Apple still hasn’t included native Blu-ray support in its operating system and doesn’t ship a product with a Blu-ray capable optical drive. Apple’s keen destruction of the optical drive becomes apparent when you take into consideration that CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray are the last major threats to Apple’s ever expanding media empire; iTunes.
Without an optical drive on a MacBook Air or Mac Mini, the easiest and most efficient way to obtain media content (legally) is through iTunes; it’s pretty much integrated into all parts of the operating system, like a virus, and is also the gateway to your iPhone and Apple TV. Music, HD films and TV shows are all available to purchase from Apple. Apple are keen to destroy physical media because, of course, they take a cut of every purchase that’s made through iTunes. This is a theory that’s been thrown about the internet for a very long time, but why shouldn’t it apply to OS X?
The heavy inclusion and integration of the Mac App Store foreshadow the future of Apple’s operating systems. A world where applications on your desktop have to be sourced through an officially sanctioned Apple marketplace; where no other forms of distribution for applications shall be allowed. Apple is getting greedy and is building the wall around their garden even higher. An exclusive Monopoly on the distribution of applications for OS X will hinder progress and creativity. Gone are the days of the free computer, one which you own and can do anything you want on, we’re now in Apple’s world where we need to be told what we can and can’t run. Hello 1984, you look so familiar.