The App Store Black Hole

After making an app just to help their App Store customers move away from the App Store, the Omni Group has just removed their OmniKeyMaster app and stated that they can no longer offer upgrade pricing to their Mac App Store customers. It’s a surprising turnaround for a team that has offered their own workarounds for App Store policies already, such as extending a 30 day money-back guarantee even when Apple itself doesn’t, and even more surprising since apps like TextExpander have made workarounds to help App Store customers move back to non-App Store versions of their apps.

This time, though, it seems Apple itself didn’t want Omni’s App Store customers moving away.

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The Point of no Return

You can't pay for promotion this nice — that, yes, includes the Omni Group's apps.

You can’t pay for promotion this nice — that, yes, includes the Omni Group’s OmniFocus.

It’s quite obvious that Apple wants the App Store to be the one place we all get our Mac apps. It’s moved all of its apps and OS updates to the App Store, and its newest services such as iCloud are reserved exclusively for App Store apps.

You’d think that Apple would try its hardest to make developers want to switch to the App Store — and in some ways, they have. They’ve made it relatively simple today for anyone to sell apps on the Mac without having to worry about license keys and payment providers, and regularly give incredibly valuable promotion to apps the App Store team loves. But, at the same time, their policies like sandboxing requirements have made some apps impossible to sell on the App Store, such as the aforementioned TextExpander, and their insistence on either offering upgrades to apps as free updates or full new products have frustrated any number of developers.

And now, they’re apparently trying to keep developers from getting their App Store customers to switch back to buying apps directly from the developers. It’s not entirely surprising that Apple wouldn’t want people to quit buying apps on the App Store, but it is surprising that they’d (apparently, anyhow, even though the Omni team isn’t directly saying it) ask/tell an App Store developer to take down a tool like OmniKeyMaster. Once you’re in the App Store, Apple wants you to stay there.

So where does that leave us?

There’s Life Outside of the App Store

Our glimmer of hope that 2014 — or 2024 — won't be like 1984.

Our glimmer of hope that 2014 — or 2024 — won’t be like 1984.

Apple conspiracy theorists would be quick to point out that the Mac’s likely to be as locked down as the iPad in the near future, with the App Store being the only place to get apps for your Mac without jailbreaking. I personally don’t think there’s any chance that’ll happen in the foreseeable future, and it absolutely has not happened yet. Today, developers can simply sign their apps with their free developer ID and distribute apps through their site that work the same as App Store apps for customers. In Mountain Lion and the upcoming Mavericks alike, the default security settings allow both App Store and signed apps without any additional warnings.

It seems quite impossible to think of the Apple of today forcing a switch to the App Store, not at least without finding a way to make the largest players like Microsoft and Adobe happy. Despite Steve Jobs’ adamant stance against Adobe’s Flash Player, and the plethora of alternates to Adobe’s apps on the Mac, I cannot imagine Apple wholesale leaving them behind through its App Store policy or Adobe switching to selling apps App Store style to stay on the Mac. Either directly would be an incredibly surprising move. So that, in my opinion, makes a switch to App Store only something we don’t have to worry about yet.

But then, perhaps that’s not what we should worry about. If they never force us to move to the App Store, most people will continue to buy software from the likes of Microsoft and Adobe since they know of them, and will stick with the App Store for discovering new stuff. Where does that leave the average indie developer? It leaves them having to deal with the App Store’s limitations, like it or not.

The Omni Group is right in the middle. They’re big enough to make waves, small enough that a new Mac user likely wouldn’t know of them. So it’s great that they’ve brought the issue to surface yet again. Apple needs to focus on developers’ needs to make sure they keep making the best apps on the Mac, and it needs to keep the Mac secure for users while still guaranteeing we can get apps from anywhere we want.

Perhaps, as commenters on our original OmniKeyMaster article mentioned, normal paid upgrades aren’t the answer and cheaper initial purchases and full-priced upgrades are the answer as Apple itself seems to be leading by example right now. Perhaps subscriptions are the answer as Adobe and Microsoft — and crowd-favorite indies like Evernote and Dropbox — think. Or perhaps in-app purchases to unlock new features as Byword did is the way. Just so the future means we get the great apps we need, and don’t have to pay a coin every time we click any button in our pro apps, I’ll be happy.

For now, I’ll keep buying apps from developers when I can, and from the App Store for everything else. And I’ll keep my Creative Cloud subscription, and keep neglecting my aging Office 2011 install in lieu of iWork. And I’ll hope we have better things to worry about going forward than Apple strangling developers and forcing them onto the App Store. That’s not the future we’re wanting at all.

Black Hole image from Wikimedia.