When the Mac App Store was announced, I said to someone, “‘Convenient’ isn’t the same as ‘good for you’.” This might look slightly odd in a community dedicated to improving people’s workflows, so I’d like to expand on it. (I should point out that I myself don’t make any money on software and don’t particularly care how big my audience is, so I’m approaching this as an aware consumer.)
My position on convenience is this:
- Good user experience is the convenience of not having to use a difficult and dangerous hand crank to start your car.
- The Mac App Store is the convenience of having McDonald’s open in your apartment building.
Of course, everyone is free not to eat at McDonald’s exclusively, or even at all. But this is beside the point. The vast majority will appreciate the convenience, and grow accustomed to it. Soon, the idea of looking elsewhere for food will seem odd. The more adventurous will consider, perhaps, an occasional excursion to the nearby Burger King of Steam or other big brands, but the existence of more obscure alternatives will be little more than a strange piece of trivia. The McDonald’s in your apartment building will have a de facto captive audience.
The captive audience will have little grasp of what the limitations on their diet are, or whether the new baconburger of the week represents the true leading edge of hamburger innovation. They will have no idea whether the prices they are paying are fair, since there will be no market to compare with. If they want organic wholemeal buns with walnuts in, they’re out of luck, because their McDonald’s is doing fine selling the normal kind.
In short, with an effective monopoly on distribution, innovations that reach outside the box of the App Store agreement will not reach users, and there will be no incentive for Apple to cooperate in expanding the box.
I’m not a free market fundamentalist, but I will only approve of a monopoly if there is good reason to believe it will benefit consumers or the population at large in the long term. The App Store doesn’t come close. (Apple’s policy of rejecting apps that are “too similar” to ones already in the store ensure a true free market cannot develop within the store either.)
In the case of the iPad, my requirement as a potential customer has been a side-loading option of some sort, despite the knowledge that it would be very hard to be competitive outside the App Store. It is fundamental that I, as the owner of my hardware, can decide whether I want to install whatever software exists.
But for the Mac, coming at this distasteful compromise situation from the other direction is unacceptable. If the App Store succeeds – and it will, once the stupidity of the distribution agreement is reduced by the smallest possible amount – my next computer will not be a Mac. I will abide inferior, noisy hardware running inferior, noisome software before I abide a cage, be it ever so shiny.
For the record: no, I’ve never owned a game console.