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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.

Conclusion

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.

Patricio Robles

Published 25 October, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2401 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

Pete Williams

Pete Williams, Managing Director at Gibe Digital

I've been using an 'App Store' for buying games on the desktop for the last few years. It's called Steam (http://www.steampowered.com) I don't see why that wouldn't work for applications. As you've noted there isn't much call for big paid apps other than a few like MS Office, but the iPhone App Store isn't full of these either. It could open the way for a centralised way of buying and installing applications which you can browse, read reviews, download and install all from one place. These wouldn't have to be £100 apps but could be small indy, open source apps or useful utilities. I can imagine something like Steam or even MS's Web Platform Installer for apps would do really well.

almost 6 years ago

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Aladin

It wil for sure have good influence on number of Apps and on their quality. It will be lower chance you can find there a junk. But... Otherwise it is road to hell and digital totality layered by sweet words. Of course Apple is only one player so you still have a choice but not so big one. Only Google shows sign of freedom. MS store will be probably dammed even more. :-)

almost 6 years ago

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Jason Daponte, Managing Director at THE SWARM

I think consumers are ready for this step - boxed software is so rarely bought these days for home computers - and I suspect half the reason so much software is pirated is because its easy to download (the way it will be from an app store). I think there may be a challenge for the app store to provide enough information and trust around an expensive piece of software to convince the user to part with big bucks, though. Software websites allow for an experience that let's the consumer feel like they've built enough of a relationship to know the company they're making a purchase from - Can app stores do this? We'll see. Asking users to part with a few hundred pounds/dollars is different from asking them to make an inexpensive impulse buy of a mobile game. The sales of more expensive apps on the iPad sets a good precedent, so I remain hopeful. The MOST important part of this move though, is that it's a big step towards convergence. The updside is that if users can buy an application on any of their devices and then expect it to work (where appropriate) across their other devices, this will change their behaviours dramatically and bring us towards 'everywhere computing.' The downside however, is that it will also lock consumers into (possibly unwilling) loyalty towards particular computer platforms (in this case Apple) because they will lose the ability for their applications to work across their devices if they move one to another platform.

almost 6 years ago

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