MacHeist=Apple App Store? (+Twitter postscript)

Earlier today, MacHeist sent out a blurb on Twitter with a link to a blog post from Fast Company. This article posited that the app-bundling phenomenon that is MacHeist could serve as a model for an Apple desktop App Store (similar to the iPhone App Store).

I don’t see it. MacHeist is a lot of things, but it’s not much like an App Store.

Here’s what I think it is. It’s a brilliant way for participating developers to get exposure. It’s a great way to reach out to Mac users to showcase a sampling of third-party Mac apps. But most importantly, it’s a model for what’s to come.

Sure, it’s about marketing, sales and charitable contribution, but what makes MacHeist special are amazing, intricate web-based games and frenzied social interactivity. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen on the Internet. In other words, the lead-up to the MacHeist bundle sale was far more interesting than the actual sale.

MacHeist doesn’t point the way to a model for an Apple App Store for the desktop. It points the way to creative possibilities using the canvas of the Internet. Have you tried one of the MacHeist puzzles? They’re wonderfully complex, intricate, and beautiful. This year, as in past years, I was awestruck at the talent of participants, the power of collective problem solving, and the sophistication of the MacHeist promotion (marred by a few exceptions, such as the amateur live webcast presented at the initial launch of the bundle). So that’s where I’m putting my money: not on the bundle sale, but on the preamble to the show.

As for the Apple App Store idea, if you mean “let’s have a store like the iPhone store,” I say no thanks. If you mean “let’s have a central Apple-hosted place to go to look for apps,” we already have one. If you mean “let’s have a store similar to the iPhone App Store,” I say maybe. I can imagine such a store, with caveats:

First, Apple could not lock down the Mac OS like they lock down the iPhone. You can’t get an iPhone app anywhere but on the App Store (unless you jailbreak your phone). I shudder to think of a future in which I could only purchase desktop Mac apps from an Apple-approved source. I could see an Apple-run desktop App Store as an option (i.e. developers could opt in, get exposure and marketing, and pay a set fee for that privilege), but I could not see it as the only choice.

Second, Apple would have to seriously refine the App approval process in a desktop App Store. The bizarro process of approval/rejection now haphazardly employed on the iPhone App Store would need to be fixed (as it needs to be fixed on the iPhone App Store).

Third, the experience would have to be significantly improved over that of the iPhone App Store. Have you looked at the iPhone App Store lately? It’s 90 percent crap. It’s also very hard to find things. And application shelf-life is decreasing by the week as new apps are added: there are few gems, awash in a sea of lousy e-books, clones, rip-offs, and garbage.

Considering that the number of iPhone third-party apps pale in comparison to the number of desktop apps out there, I can’t see how Apple would be able to organize or manage such a store in a meaningful and fair way. Apple could surely create a desktop App store, but could they do it well? I say no.

I think independent sources are and should remain the hubs to showcase third-party Mac apps. There are hundreds of blogs and podcasts offering reviews and discussions. There are discount and version tracking services such as, MacUpdate, or MacZot. There are countless Webzines, large and small. And there are bundling schemes like MacHeist.

But the real driver is application performance. The best Mac apps rise through the clutter. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for better ways to bring Mac users and apps together. I just don’t think the answer is Apple.

Postscript: Several days ago, MacHeist asked bundle purchasers to ‘re-tweet’ a message to generate more bundle sales. In return, participants received two additional apps. You did not get the apps if you did not send the tweet. Great deal, but you had to essentially spam your Twitter followers to get the software. This is fair game usage for Twitter, right? Sure, why not.

I won’t dwell on the tactics, other than to say (1) it was effective and (2) I foresee a day in the not-so-distant future when Twitter is so bloated and overwhelmed with commercial ventures, marketing ploys, promotions, etc., that it will be rendered unusable. But I will say that it may be time to consider signing up for a second Twitter account. I, for one, have an alt Twitter account, just as many of us have alt E-mail accounts used for signing up for online services and apps. My alt E-mail account takes the brunt of my spam.

My alt Twitter account isn’t used much yet, but I think it will become a handy tool as Twitter expands and matures into…what? I don’t really know. But I like the idea of having an alternative. Disclosure: I used the alt Twitter account to send out the MacHeist message. This is fair game usage for Twitter, right? Sure, why not.