Apple's App Store for OSX iPhone Devices

Though it hasn’t been announced on its website, Apple’s App Store for OSX iPhone applications is now online. In fact, enterprising iPhone users can allegedly upgrade their phone’s firmware to 2.0 in order to take advantage of this online software shop. As an iPod touch user, I have no such luxury. As of this moment, the firmware upgrade for iPod touch hasn’t been released. Since that upgrade will be free for iPhone and paid for iPod touch, the discrepancy isn’t surprising.

With those third-party applications, my ‘touch will become more of a PDA and the iPhone will become more of a smartphone.

Still, I was able to access the App Store using iTunes 7.7 (which I downloaded directly from Apple’s iTunes website since it wasn’t showing up in Apple Software Update). Adding the “Applications” item in the left-hand sidebar (available through the “General” tab in iTunes Preferences), I can see a list of applications already downloaded in iTunes (i.e., nothing at first launch). At the bottom of that page, there’s a link to get more applications which leads to the App Store.  There, I can browse applications, get free apps, or buy some of the paid ones (using the payment information stored in my iTunes account). Prices are the same in USD and CAD (since they are pretty much on par, it all makes sense). Searching and browsing for apps follows all the same conventions as with music, movies, podcasts, or iPod games. Application pages appear in searches for application names (say, “Trism“).

I went through a number of apps and eventually downloaded 28 free ones. I also noted a number of apps I would like to try, including Trism, Units, Things, Outliner, OmniFocus, Steps (one of the rare apps available in French), iCalorie, and one of the multiple Sudoku apps. However, I can’t put apps on a wishlist and demos aren’t available directly through iTunes (I’m assuming they’re available from the iPhone or iPod touch).

I’m actually looking forward to trying out all of these apps. I don’t tend to be an early adopter but this is one case for quick adoption, especially with free apps. I guess a small part of this is that, since Apple has sorted through these apps, I’m assuming none of them contains any malware. Not that I ever fully trust an organization or individual, but my level of trust is higher with the App Store than with, say, the usual software download site (,,, And I trust these download sites much more than the developer sites I find through Web searches.

One thing I notice very quickly is how small many of those apps were. After downloading 28 apps, my “Mobile Applications” folder is 31MB. Of course, many PDA apps were typically under 100KB, but given the size of OSX iPhone devices, I’m glad to notice that I can probably fit that I can probably fit a lot of applications in less than 1GB, leaving more room for podcasts, music, and pictures. On the other hand, filesizes are apparently not listed in the “Applications” section on iTunes (they’re specified on the individual apps’ pages).

Overall, there’s a number of obvious apps, many of which are PDA classic: to do lists, phrasebooks, clocks and timers, calculators (including tips calculators), converters, trackers, weather forecasts, and solitaire or other casual games (like sudoku). No surprise with any of these and I’ll probably use many of them. Typically, these can be difficult to select because developers have had very similar ideas but the apps have slightly different features. Typically, with those apps, free wins over extensive feature lists, even for very cheap software.

Speaking of price, I notice that AppEngines is selling 43 different Public Domain books as separate apps for 1$ each. Now, there’s nothing wrong with making money off Public Domain material (after all, there wouldn’t be a Disney Company without Public Domain works). But it seems strange to me that someone would nickel-and-dime readers by charging for access to individual Public Domain titles. Sure, a standalone app is convenient. But a good electronic book reader should probably be more general than book-specific. Not really because of size constraints and such. But because books are easily conceived as part of a library (or bookshelf), instead of being scattered on a handheld device. The BookZ Text Reader seems more relevant, in this case, and it’s compatible with the Project Gutenberg files. Charging 2$ for that text reader seems perfectly legitimate. For its part, Fictionwise has released a free eReader app for use with its proprietary format. Though it won’t transform OSX iPhone devices into a Kindle killer, this eReader app does seem to at least transfer books through WiFi. Since these books are copyrighted ones, the app can be a nice example of a convenient content marketplace.

I’m a bit surprised that the educational software section of the App Store isn’t more elaborate. It does contain 45 separate apps but several of those are language-specific versions of language tools or apps listed in other categories which happen to have some connection to learning. If it were me, I’d classify language tools in a separate category or subcategory and I might more obvious how different educational apps are classified. On the other hand, I’m quite surprised that Molecules isn’t listed in this educational section.

The reason I care so much is that I see touch devices generally as an important part of the future of education. With iPod touches being bundled with Mac sales in the current “Back-to-School” special and with the obvious interest of different people in putting touch devices in the hands of learners and teachers, I would have expected a slew of educational apps. Not to mention that educational apps have long populated lists of software offerings since the fondly remembered Hypercard days to PDAs and smartphones.

Among the interesting educational apps is Faber Acoustical‘s SignalScope. At 25$, it’s somewhat expensive for an OSX iPhone app, but it’s much less expensive than some equivalent apps on other platforms used to be. It’s also one of the more creative apps I’ve seen in the Store. Unfortunately, for apparently obvious reasons (the iPod touch has no embedded audio in), it’s only available on the iPhone.

Speaking of iPhone-only software… There’s already a way to get audio on the iPod touch using a third-party adapter. I understand that Apple isn’t supporting it officially but I wonder if the iPhone-only tag will prevent people from using it. Small point for most people, I guess. But it’d be really nice if I could use my ‘touch as a voice recorder. Would make for a great fieldwork tool.

One thing I wish were available on the App Store is an alternative mode for text entry. Though I’m already getting decent performance from the default virtual keyboard on my ‘touch, I still wish I had Dasher, MessagEase or even Graffiti.

Among the apps I’ve browsed, I see a number of things which could be described as “standalone versions of Web apps.” There’s already a good number of Web apps compatible or even customized for OSX iPhone devices. The standalone versions can be useful, in part because they can be used offline (great for WiFi-less situations, on the iPod touch). But these “standaloned Web apps” also don’t seem to really take full advantage of Apple’s Cocoa Touch. In the perception of value, I’d say that “standaloned Web apps” rate fairly low, especially since most Web apps are free to use (unless tied with an account on a Web service).

I was also surprised to see that a number of apps which are basically simple jokes are put for sale on the App Store. I was amused to see an OSX iPhone version of Freeverse’s classic “Jared, The Butcher of Songs.” But I’m puzzled by the fact that Hottrix is selling its iBeer app for 3$. Sure, it’s just 3$. But I don’t see the app providing with as much pleasure as a single taster of a craft beer. Not to mention that the beer itself looks (by colour, foam, and carbonation) like a bland pilsner and not like a flavourful beer.

Overall, I’d say the Store is well-made. Again, the same principles are used as for the iTunes Store generally. All application pages have screenshots and some of these screenshots give an excellent idea of what the application does, while other screenshots are surprisingly difficult to understand. Browsing the Store, I noticed how important icons seemed to be in terms of catching my attention. Some application developers did a great job at the textual description of their applications, also catching my attention. But others use “marketingspeak” to brag about their product, which has the effect of making the app more difficult to grasp. Given the number of apps already listed and the simplicity of the classification, such details become quite important. Almost (but not nearly as much) as price, in terms of making an app appealing.

It seems pretty clear to me (and to others, including some free market advocates), that price is an important issue. This was obvious to many of us for a while. But the opening of the App Store makes this issue very obvious.

For instance, regardless of his previous work, CNET journalist Don Reisinger is probably on to something when he argues, in essence, that the free apps may outweigh the benefits of the paid apps, on Apple’s App Store. Even though Apple allegedly coaxed developers into charging for their apps, the fact of the matter is that the App Store clearly shows that no-cost software can be a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The same advantage is obvious in many contexts, including in music. But, as a closed environment, the App Store could serve as an efficient case study in “competing with free.” One thing to keep in mind, as I keep saying, is that there are multiple types of no-cost offerings. In the software world (including on the App Store), there’s a large number of examples of successful applications which incurred no purchase on the users’ part. Yes, sometimes you need a bit of imagination to build a business model on top of no-cost software. But I think the commercial ventures enabled by these “alternative” business models are more diverse than people seem to assume.

One thing I noticed in terms of application pricing on the App Store is that there either seems to be a number of sweet spots or pricing schemes come from a force of habit. Sure, Apple only has a finite list of “tiers” for amounts which can be charged for a given app (with preset currency conversions). But I think that some tiers have been used more than others. For instance, 10$ seems fairly common as a threshold between truly inexpensive apps and a category similar to “shareware.” Some apps are actually as expensive as the desktop versions, though it seems that the most expensive app so far is under 100$.

One thing to note is that several developers of those early App Store products have been involved in Mac development for a while (the Omni Group being an obvious example) but there are also several organizations which seem to be entering Cocoa development for the first time. This could be a bigger halo effect in terms of Mac sales than the original iPod or the iPhone. Profit made through OSX iPhone apps (either through software cost, through services, or even through other monetization schemes) could lead them to develop software for OSX Leopard. At least, they already made an investment in the development platform.

It’ll be interesting to observe what happens with software pricing in relation to the “apparent hand” of a constrained market.

But I’m less interested in this market than in the actual apps. When can I install the “iPhone 2.0” firmware on my iPod touch? Is it now?

9 thoughts on “Apple's App Store for OSX iPhone Devices”

  1. When can I install the “iPhone 2.0″ firmware on my iPod touch? Is it now?

    The latest version for the iPod Touch on the iPhone developer site is labeled “beta 8”, so it does exist, if only as a developer seed.

    I actually have a copy, but haven’t had time to install it. I’ve been teaching a summer class for the last month — no time to hack. I’m wrapping that up this week, though.

    I bought into the full iPhone dev program, so (presumably) once I install it I’ll be able to download apps that I’ve written to my iPod Touch and (also presumably) be able to post them to the store. I’ll let you know what I find out.

  2. @Tony Thanks for the note. I’m actually guessing the firmware will not only be available soon but Apple will strongly encourage (nudge incessantly) iPod touch owners to upgrade the firmware as soon as it’s officially out.
    The local deployment seems like an excellent idea for education (which was explicitly used as an example in the WWDC keynote) and I’m even hoping that a good number of educators will jump on the bandwagon.

    Do report back as things unfold, for you.

    And thanks again!

  3. @FL Yesterday (July 10), actually. Haven’t installed the new firmware but it’s supposed to be available now.
    The Store is pretty neat. Especially for those of us who like no-cost and inexpensive software. 🙂
    We already knew a lot about the Store itself so the major surprises were in the actual software offerings. I’m a bit surprised that there isn’t that much on the App Store that is incredibly new and innovative, but maybe it’ll come with time.

  4. I. It’s only a ‘competitive advantage’ (comparative advantage) if it gets you something. Downloads in and of themself are of dubious value. The link between large scale downloading of freeware and future profits is tenuous at best. People like free stuff so of course they’re going to say ‘oh, sure Johnny, that free app you distributed really increased your developer salience in my preference ranking. The next time you release an app and charge for it, I’ll be sure to download’ or ‘the success of your free app really clued me in to your potential as a developer. I’m a venture capitalist. Here’s a BMW & $250,000 seed money. Go make something great’. These are the things that keep the freeware community going. I won’t lie – I love freeware. But I’m not certain it’s really starter if your eventual goal is to make money. It’s mostly an ephemeral dream that people can springboard from freeware to $$$.

    2. Having said that: because there are motivations besides making money, I do think that quality freeware applications will emerge in many segments.

    3. Having said that: I think it’s daft to suggest that freeware will displace ALL application categories. Examples that immediately spring to mind: Higher end iPhone games, advanced media functionality, ‘expert field’ software (e.g. a fully developed version of the MMI or Molecules app), esoteric niches (statistical programs; hydrodynamic simulators – there’s some overlap here with expert field software), enterprise software. Places where, in other words, expertise and experience (the kind that people charge money for) actually make a difference in terms of the final product.

    4. The implementation of the app store is fantastic. Beautiful. Apple style quality as usual.

    5. The first wave of offerings is less than impressive. I can’t believe this is the best they could get out after they had so many months of development lead time.

  5. @Logan’s Run
    Thanks for your rather thoughtful comment.
    It seems that my mention of the “competitive advantage” concept may have been misleading to some people. I didn’t mean it in the technical sense it seems to have in business. I meant it in a sense it could have in social contexts. (I made a similar mistake with the term “commodity,” in the past. So I’m not too surprised that such terms would be understood too literally.)

    Thinking more in terms of “mindshare” in relation to the App Store’s initial offerings than about profit made by makers of freeware or other no-cost software. The initial launch of the App Store marked the start of the first phase in OSX iPhone application deployment. iPod touch and iPhone users are semi-frantically selecting apps based on very cursory reviews of the initial offerings. In this context, no-cost apps have a very special value, especially since demo versions aren’t prominently displayed.
    The selection is overwhelming at first sight and some apps have an advantage over others in terms of initial mindshare. Though I didn’t mention them specifically, I think that those apps which were announced in advance of the App Store launch (during Apple keynotes or through YouTube videos) also have an edge. So do apps which were available on jailbroken OSX iPhone devices.
    But, really, I’m thinking about this very early phase, following the launch of the App Store. Not about the eventual “success” of specific developers.
    I just think this special case (the “initial scramble for apps” ) is worth considering in a broader context.

    The broad “compete with free” idea isn’t about how much money no-cost offerings may help their creators make. It’s about the fact that those who charge for something which has a no-cost equivalent need to pay attention to the fact that there exists a no-cost alternative. Simplistic, but important. And apparently missed by some business-oriented people.
    Of course, cost is but one consideration when people select applications, content, or services. In those contexts, “no cost at all” is quite different from “nominal fee.” As superficial as it was, the Wired issue on “free” helped some people think about this. It’s just surprising it took so long.
    As a musician and ethnomusicologist, I often think about “compete with free” in the context of music. There are many ways to engage in music. Some of them incur a direct cost, some of them imply indirect costs, and some of them imply no financial exchange whatsoever. No-cost musicking and music listening are quite attractive and people in those businesses based on music were often oblivious to the attraction of those other models. Basically, the cluelessness evident in the “homecooking kills the restaurant industry” (and recording-based equivalents).

    Going back to the App Store…

    I actually don’t think that no-cost apps will really displace fee-based apps in any category. I just consider no-cost apps in my own selection process and think about the social dimensions of this selection process. In a few cases, it’s possible that a no-cost alternative will put “selective pressure” on some apps priced inappropriately. But I do think that some people will pay for just about any app on the App Store, regardless of cost or actual value.
    Sure, we can expect some specialized products to sell well at a rather high price in some categories. That’s one of the most obvious business models people know (along with “economies of scale”). But there are other several other business models involving the App Store and I’m not sure specialized apps are completely sheltered from the “compete with free” effect.

    One thing I notice on the App Store is that the most common model for “free” apps seems to be the “Web service with standalone application” one instead of the classic “freeware” model. Many of the free apps require registering a user account on some kind of Web service. Some of these Web services are fee-based (Nexonia Expenses) but the majority are of the more “Web 2.0” no-fee kind. Within those, there are different monetization schemes but ad-based (Twitterific) and fee-based services (eReader) both seem quite common.
    There’s also a few “lite version” apps which are meant as gateways into premium apps. Twitterific seems to be one of those as well as an ad-based app. So is Karajan Beginner.
    Then, there’s some apps following the classic freeware model, like Jeffrey Grossman’s Currency or Catamount Software’s CheckPlease. I’m guess these might be motivated by the old “social capital” arguments. Or they’re just “scratch my own itch” products. They might even be the result of learning development on OSX iPhone (“Hello World” apps). I really don’t know, as I can’t judge motivations. But I don’t see these “classic freeware” apps as consisting of the majority of so-called “free” apps on the App Store.
    One thing I notice is that there’s almost no app which come directly from the Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) movement. One obvious reason is the structure of the development process as well as the fact that developers need to pay to enter the development program. What’s more, because Apple prevents programming languages to be distributed as apps, it’s unlikely that OSX iPhone will become a major platform for FLOSS. But we might still see some things come out of FLOSS into App Store items.

    As am iPod touch user, I do like the App Store implementation, especially on the device itself (as opposed to iTunes on the desktop). However, I’m really puzzled by the fact that the Store doesn’t seem to host demo versions on pages for fee-based apps. Because it’s too logical to miss, I had assumed that at least some fee-based apps (like Trism and Band) would have a “free demo version” button alongside the “Buy” button. I’m quite disappointed that there isn’t such a thing. I guess we’ll have the demo versions in the “Free Apps” category, and that should be fine. But, in the meantime, I won’t get into “Paid apps.”
    Text descriptions, screenshots, and reviews just don’t cut it. It’s extremely unlikely that I will buy any app without at least trying some of its core features. Unlike desktop apps, compatibility isn’t much of an issue (though some apps list compatibility with the iPod touch yet can’t be used on it). For me, purchasing an app isn’t based on impulse like purchasing a music track might occasionally be.

    As for the initial offerings, part of my blogpost was in fact about my surprise not to see a wider selection of innovative apps. Don’t want to be insulting but I did have the “is that all you could come up with?” reaction, for the first day or so. On the other hand, the first 500-odd apps are just the tip of the iceberg (more are added every day, it seems) and there are some rather innovative apps hidden in the lot already. For instance, as simple as it first seems, Urbanspoon is pretty innovative, when you start using it. Apps like Facebook and Google, though they have some neat features not present elsewhere, I wouldn’t call “innovative.”

    Bear in mind that I’m not making predictions on the success of this or that app. I’m just thinking about the broad context of the App Store launch.

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