Are you ready to buy desktop applications through an app store? Apple thinks you are. In the next few months, it will roll out the Mac app store, which will let Mac owners purchase desktop software apps the same way iPhone owners purchase apps for their phone. And Microsoft has plans of its own for a Windows desktop software app store.
The big question: will the app store model work on the desktop? And is the desktop even a market worth targeting?
While the iPhone/iPad App Store and platforms like Facebook are sexy, desktop software is still a billion-dollar a year market. And whereas many of the most developers in the App Store and Facebook make their money selling their apps for $1 or $2, or through ads and virtual goods, many desktop software vendors still sell their software for much more.
Of course, making millions developing desktop software isn't a walk in the park, and that's one of the reasons to question the potential of a Mac app store. As Engadget's former editor Ryan Block notes:
The real issue with the desktop software market is that (unless you're talking about productivity software) there just isn't all that much consumers need to buy anymore. The boxed software business didn't die because of app stores, it died because of an overabundance of great programs that are free, open, or otherwise subsidized that are available through other web or internet services. To put it another way: lately, how often have your parents bought software for their computer (that wasn't Microsoft Office)?
Block's points are well taken, but the desktop software business isn't dead. It's simply very mature and has been marginalized in some areas by the internet. But it's possible that app stores targeting the desktop could help revitalize the desktop software market. Here are the four big reasons why:
More and more consumers are familiar with the app store model
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the prospects for a desktop app store's success. But now that lots of consumers been exposed to the app store model, and use it as the primary means to discover and purchase software for their mobiles, it's logical that at least some of them will be comfortable buying desktop apps in the same fashion.
The desktop is waiting for innovation
There's a lot to like about 'software' available as a service over the internet. But let's not write off the desktop. The desktop still has plenty of advantages over the internet; there's a lot that developers can do on the desktop that they can't do on the internet. And when desktop software is combined with the internet, you often get the best of both worlds.
Arguably, the desktop could use some innovation, and the app store model could conceivably help it do just that. As TechCrunch's MG Siegler observes:
[The Mac app store] may give rise to a whole new crop of small apps that otherwise might get lost in the sea of web apps — or not exist at all. You could certainly make the case that great new services like Instagram would have never existed without the iPhone App Store. Perhaps the Mac App Store will lead to developers creating new experiences and a new crop of apps as well.
If successful, desktop app stores will lure developers
Developers of desktop software may have plenty of reasons not like the app store model. To be sure, giving Apple a 30% cut of your sales isn't immediately appealing. Nor is the possibility of having to produce low-cost software that only makes money in volume.
But developers will follow the money. If the Mac app store proves to be a viable marketplace for selling software applications, developers will participate. And they may even eventually find that having to water down their applications to be competitive price-wise is actually a good thing. After all, a lot of desktop software developers build in features that aren't really necessary to the vast majority of their customers. If they can build simpler applications and make money doing it, there's no reason not to be happy.
The success of the app store model on the desktop is certainly not guaranteed. But the model shouldn't be written off. Software applications, and how consumers discover and use them, have changed dramatically over the past decade. Chances are how consumers discover and use them will change dramatically in the coming decade. Whether app stores play a role in that only time will tell.
Photo credit: mattk1979 via Flickr.