Apple's announcement this morning of a Mac App Store, part of OS X 10.7 Lion starting next year, and for 10.6 users as soon as 90 days from now, spells another nail in the coffin for the retail box model of software discovery, purchase and installation. Just as iTunes, Napster and the many other Web-based entertainment delivery models dramatically impacted the retail experience of physically purchasing (or renting) CDs and DVDs, so too will the software industry be impacted by an increased emphasis on Web delivery of applications. Apple has woken up to this trajectory with today's announcement, after years of focusing their app store on mobile devices, while at the same time, Google continues to march down its path of a Chrome Web store for the company's planned OS.
The concept of an iTunes-like software delivery method for purchasing is hardly groundbreaking. Back in 2007, more than three years ago, I was begging for it in a piece I had posted to The Apple Blog (Solving Software Purchases the iTunes Way). At the time, I talked about the benefits of reviews, demos and one-click purchasing for all types of software, and those benefits are a big part of the promised Mac App Store. Interestingly, at the time of my post, Apple had only focused on media with iTunes. The iTunes App Store came out a full year later, and it has taken two more years to bring this delivery method to standard software.
In the last three years, a few major developments have taken place to make this promise more of a reality - including increased access to high speed broadband, required for large downloads, much like with movie rentals and purchases, once deemed nearly impossible, and the gradual doing away with optical drives, which Apple seems to be allergic to in the same way they ditched floppy disks back in 1998 with the first generation iMac.
On my MacBook Air, if I can avoid hooking up the USB SuperDrive, I will do it. I downloaded my Adobe Photoshop suite from the Web, and want all my data to flow through the air. If I ever were to consider Google's Chrome OS, the process would no doubt be the same - only with the browser being the center of the universe, not an iTunes like product.
Interestingly, much of Apple's event this morning was taken up talking about the latest edition of iLife, the consumer products focused on rich media, from photos to video and music creation. First, those apps and their data take up a lot of space, possibly forcing folks to consider backup outside their smaller SSD drives, and second, highlighting how unlikely it is that I will be purchasing iLife from an Apple Retail store in a boxed version. If Apple hasn't yet said that all software installs are going to come from the Mac App store, there will definitely be a push that direction. I already don't want to upgrade from my current version of iLife to iLife '09, simply because there's no way to update over the Web.
Many of us have faster pipes. Many of us are using our DVD and CD drives less and less - if at all. The Web is replacing all these things, and Apple is making a centralized place for us to have fast access, and for them to no doubt make lots more money than they already do - grabbing 30 percent of the pie. It's an aggressive move for them on the balance sheet, one more piece of their "integrated" approach, but the right one and the obvious one. Google's Chrome Web store too is obvious, and exciting for its own right, giving the option for Web services providers to charge for apps that might otherwise be free. As a consumer, I am ready to pay real money for good programs. Just don't make me buy them at retail on a spinning disk.