No, Apple isn’t moving toward a Mac App Store-only future. At least, not yet

iPhone XR Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Nothing quite provokes the ire of conspiracy-minded folks than a juicy Apple news story.

Remember when Apple started slowing its iPhones as they aged so that they wouldn’t explode like a certain rival’s handsets? No, you probably remember it as “Apple is bricking older phones in a nefarious plot to force you to upgrade,” splashed in all-caps across every masthead. Or how about the time Apple decided to stop reporting individual unit sales of its products because it felt there were better ways to judge its success — you know, like every other tech company does?

Apple’s status as the biggest tech firm in the world inevitably incites conspiracy theories and rumors like no other company. And now, hot on the heels of its announcements at WWDC, we have another doozy: that Apple is trying to turn the Mac app marketplace into a monopoly.

Follow the money

This train of thought has been inspired by Apple’s announcement of its app notarization system. Basically, this allows developers to submit their apps to Apple, which then checks the apps for malware. If none is found, the app gets the green light and is marked as safe to users, giving them confidence in its authenticity.

It’s like going on Chatroulette: It’s usually safe, but every now and then you’re greeted by a dick pic.

Unlike on iOS, Mac users can download and install apps from anywhere on the internet, not just the Mac App Store. While apps that make it onto Apple’s Mac App Store have to go through a checking and approval system, that isn’t necessarily true of apps hosted on third-party websites. You have to trust that the developer is not sneaking malicious code into its app and, while the Mac has systems in place (such as Gatekeeper) to limit the damage such apps can do, there’s still an element of risk. It’s like going on Chatroulette: It’s usually safe, but every now and then you’re greeted by a dick pic.

App notarization is Apple’s attempt to bring the same level of trust and security you get from the Mac App Store (even if you have to put up with its terrible app discovery process) to apps hosted elsewhere. As Apple says, it’s about giving confidence to users that the software they want to install is safe.

But not everyone sees it that way. To some, this is a plot by Apple to shut out third-party developers and force them onto the Mac App Store, where Apple can take a cut of their earnings. On the surface, this idea may make sense. The iOS App Store is a huge moneymaker for Apple, and it would be a great opportunity for Apple to replicate that on the Mac. Apple is the richest tech company in the world, a symbol of greed in a world gone mad with money. Why wouldn’t it want to get its paws on even more green?

Well, the problem with naked money grabs is just that — they’re so obvious. There is so much scrutiny on Apple these days that even its most innocuous moves are held up to the light of public opinion. Just look at how much is being written about whether the iOS App Store is a monopoly, right at this very moment. To make similar moves on the Mac at this time would be foolish on Apple’s part and would have the opposite effect of trying to drive developers to the app store voluntarily. That would happen on its own if the Mac App Store was brimming full of new and creative applications rather than a ghost town.

The cult of Mac

Unlike iOS, the Mac software ecosystem has always been semi-open. The Mac App Store didn’t even exist until 2010, whereas iOS has been a closed system right from the start. At this point, it just doesn’t make much sense to force Mac developers into an iOS-style arrangement that has only existed for a fraction of the Mac’s history while irritating them no end.

The store’s first arrivals. Trevor Mogg/Digital Trends

There are plenty of developers out there who make apps exclusively for the Mac but, for whatever reason, prefer to distribute their apps on their own websites. Their ability to do that is a key difference between MacOS and iOS as app platforms, with the former much more in line with how software has traditionally been distributed on computing platforms over the years. Microsoft attempted a similar move with Windows S (later called S Mode), which locked users from download applications outside of the Microsoft Store. It was only available on a small number of devices, but it was a complete disaster.

One of Apple’s biggest selling points these days is its record on security. There’s a reason why, whenever a new Mac virus is doing the rounds, the world’s headlines scream “yes, your Mac can get a virus”, not “yet another virus infiltrates the Mac.” The very fact that Mac viruses are so surprising is a testament to its security as a system.

If you want a secure system, you sure as hell don’t go to Windows first, and Apple wants to keep it that way

And that is what the app notarization scheme is about. If you want a secure system, you sure as hell don’t go to Windows first, and Apple wants to keep it that way — increasing its sales and making it more money, while eating into its rival’s market share.

From any business’s perspective, that’s a much better way to make money. Selling the benefits of your platform is far more attractive than forcing people into an arrangement they don’t want. And that’s what Apple fill have to do if it wants to attract both developers and users to the Mac App Store.

Of course, a Mac App Store-only future may be a desire of Apple’s at some point. If the company could manage it without damaging the reputation of developers and users, that would be a huge success. But in its current state, bringing app notarization to the app store doesn’t feel like the first shot fired across the bow.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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