Software Updates & Moving Toward the Mac App Store

To be honest, I rarely use the Mac App Store. I appreciate it because it does let me quickly get Apple applications without fumbling for a restore DVD somewhere, but otherwise I get all of my non-Apple apps directly from the source. The app store makes sense to me on iOS because that's the only option we were presented with from the start, but even there I would appreciate the flexibility of installing apps from any source. On a Mac the opposite is true. Just as was the case on PCs, I've always grabbed and installed software on my Macs from a multitude of sources and I've never really wished there was a centralized, policed repository of Mac applications. That being said, I do understand and accept that I may be a part of a shrinking minority. Apple's most successful products have been those sold effectively as appliances. The MacBook Air took many steps in the same direction by offering no end user upgradeable CPU, memory, storage or battery options. With the MBA you're buying some sort of a Mac appliance hybrid. It's a good device (I'm typing this article on an MBA now), but in many ways it's an inflexible one.

My fear is that as Apple straddles this line between the old and the new, that it will step over too far into the walled garden/appliance territory. That OS X, just like iOS, will become a platform powered only by the app store. That isn't the reality today and I hope that it never will be, but the temptation is surely there. Apple gets a cut of all software sales through the Mac app store, it doesn't elsewhere. App stores are a way of continuing to profit off of a platform after you've sold the initial hardware and operating system. From a customer experience standpoint there's also significant motivation behind supporting only a centralized app store. With complete control of what can run on the platform, Apple could guarantee and maintain the level of experience that it's always been in pursuit of.

Again, today, this isn't a problem but there's definitely movement in that direction. Mountain Lion does away with Lion's Software Update mechanism and instead integrates that into the Mac App Store directly.

There's no change in functionality, just a change in physical location. I will admit that the software update tool always felt like it needed...updating, but I don't know that I would've put it in the MAS application.

Remember all of the new APIs that developers now have access to? A couple of them are only available to applications distributed via the Mac App Store. The big one is iCloud. Any application that interfaces with or uses iCloud is required to be in the MAS. It's the tradeoff you make when you start using Apple's cloud storage as a selling feature of your application. There are ways around this requirement (you could decouple any cloud storage features from your main application and simply offer the former through the app store) but it's a bifurcation of the Mac software feature set for the most part.

The notification story is a little different.

New Notifications API & Interface

Revamping notifications was a major part of the iOS 5 update last year and Apple decided to bring some of that to OS X. Mountain Lion sports a new iPad-like notification center that's accessible by performing a right to left, two finger swipe on a multitouch trackpad. The gesture is unique in that it's the first gesture that must be started at the very edge of the trackpad. A two finger right-left swipe starting in the middle or even an inch from the border of the trackpad is different entirely. To bring up the notifications menu you have to start the gesture at the very edge of the trackpad. It's easier to just start swiping off of the trackpad first, allowing the gesture to then continue onto the trackpad surface. The notification center gesture is very reminiscent of the PlayBook/webOS bezel gestures that have similar requirements for starting outside or at the beginning of the touch area.

Notifications are summarized in the notification center but as they happen they appear in a little box in the upper right of your screen. You can configure notifications to accumulate or automatically disappear after a short period of time. Growl users have had something similar for a while now, but Apple is now officially offering a native notification service to all developers.

There's been a bit of confusion about the new notifications API (NSUserNotification) and whether or not it's available to applications not in the Mac App Store. Local notifications using the new API are available to third party apps regardless of their distribution model (they don't need to be in the Mac App Store). Push notifications on the other hand currently require that the application is distributed only through the Mac App Store. The key word is currently because a lot of Mountain Lion decisions have yet to be finalized. I wouldn't be too surprised if Apple decides to open up push notifications, in some form, to third party applications not distributed through the app store.

This is another example where Apple has to carefully straddle the line between pushing everyone to the Mac App Store and not abandoning the rest of the Mac software ecosystem. I would like to see feature parity regardless of distribution model (perhaps with some restrictions) on OS X going forward, but I'm not sure that will happen.

Gatekeeper Messages, AirPlay Mirroring, QuickSync, Server & Older Hardware
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  • ananduser - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Your description fits W8 entirely. Reply
  • steven75 - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Or... Mountain Lion, since you CAN install apps from the internet willy-nilly or drop down to the terminal if you really want to. Reply
  • ananduser - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    The Metro interface that W8 sports is much more dramatic than the effect some features from ios integrated in OSX might have.

    The Metro/Classic duality is also much more akin to ying/yang than the OSX interface which is technically a mash-up.
    Reply
  • Scannall - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    My mom is in her 70's. About a year and a half ago I finally talked her into ditching her Windows ME (Yes, the hated ME) computer. Got her a 27 inch iMac, transferred all her photos and other documents for her. And she has just been thrilled. She has since purchased an iPad 2 and an Apple TV box to go with it.

    And, since setting it up initially, she hasn't needed ANY tech support from me.

    But for the more hard core, and those that like to tinker the Terminal program is still there, with all the command line goodness (Or destruction...).

    Also, it's pretty easy to add either Windows and Linux to your iMac. I have both on mine. Most days anymore I just want to get things done, so I boot into OS X. On the days I feel like tinkering more there is Windows and Linux there for me to play with.
    Reply
  • bji - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    I had a similar experience with my 65 year old mother. After 10+ years of supporting her on Windows computers, I finally bought her a mac mini after her most recent Windows virus infection. It's been the smoothest 6 months of her computer life so far, and the amount of tech support I've had to provide has been much lower. She even figured out how to resize pictures and email them, on her own, something that for some reason after 10+ years of Windows use she still hand't figured out.

    This is just anecdotal evidence of course, and someone else's mother may find the Windows way of doing things comprehensible, but my mom didn't, and given how many similar comments I've read, I have a feeling there is something to Apple's UI design that works well for novice users.

    As a software developer, I have no problem with Apple's approach, as long as they leave the door open for third party applications that don't go through their app store, which so far, they are.

    I personally have never owned a Macintosh, but have alread set aside the money for a 15 inch Macbook Air, just waiting for them to come out. It will be nice to finally be able to port my software to OS X.
    Reply
  • cyabud - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    "I feel Apple as well as all others should provide a simple switch to disable to 'walled garden' "

    This switch you talk of is called Terminal.app

    And I suppose on iOS it's called a jailbreak, but we're talking about OS X here.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Andrew and Anand describe the Gatekeeper controls in System Preferences and how you can bypass them at anytime by holding down a couple keys.

    Apple has no reason to force you to only buy Mac App Store apps otherwise they would not have offered code signing for external apps which make non-App Store apps safer. They also don't get so much profit from apps that it makes sense to limit to the number of potential Mac buyers.

    Apple is by far the most profitable PC maker in the business and they plan to stay that way, hence their move to faster OS X updates and trying to make OS X as familiar as their more popular iOS platform without negatively impacting usability. So far they are doing a good job of it.
    Reply
  • Conficio - Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - link

    Terminal.app is not an open field (as opposed to a walled garden). It's more like the trenches of the [battle of the] somme.

    Really, while a terminal window is nice, the functionality it opens up is undocumented, unsupported and mostly hidden from view. and if you start the app from the terminal it still bitches about "being downloaded from ....", scaring the daylight out of "ordinary" users.

    Really why I give credit to Apple to break the walled prisons of the cell phone carriers (mostly the US variety) on phones, they only did in order to replace it with their own walled garden. At least they allow different producers of the same kind of apps to compete, as they profit from all of them equally, where cell phone carriers pick and choose.
    Reply
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Just because you can buy the individual parts for a computer and assemble them doesn't make you an expert - you're more like a mechanic.

    Your entire argument is based on a false assumption, that Mac's are simple computers for simple people - a "walled garden". While that is true for those who like it that way, Mac's also include many high knowledge tools that Windows does not. Terminal provides access to these tools that have been a foundation for computers since the early Days of the C programming language and the UNIX operating system. Sorry, the MSDOS box is not even close to comparable.

    Windows is more like a "Theme Park", you can ride all the attractions, but remember you are only a park visitor, and cannot go into areas marked "Authorized Personnel Only." They made damn sure of this by not providing the same tools that are included in each and every MAC OS X installation.
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Monday, February 20, 2012 - link

    Interesting comments to my post even if one (Tim) is obviously Mr Angry.

    I would not ask my 70+ year old mother to build a computer, I would buy her an Ipad because she does not need to understand how is works merely use it.

    But my 10 year old needs to understand computers properly and best way is to start by making her build one (OS will probably by Linux). Maybe that makes her a mechanic (Teamswitcher) but it will also give her a better appreciation of how computers work.

    Yes W8 worries me, it is supposed to be a more mature OS but looks like it was designed by someone whose only previous experience was an Ipad and kids cartoons.

    The problem is that as the computing market matures a lot of assumptions are being made about how people should use the computer. I do not want someone else making assumptions about how I should work, what I want is the software to allow me to work the way I want to.

    Please understand my original post was that the Apple philosphy does not work for me not that I hate Apple.
    Reply

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