One More Lame Analogy About The App Store

I’ll post this thing that just occurred to me, because I amused myself with it and it seems to sum up the situation with the App Store.

Before the App Store, Mac apps were like a comedy or a drama on HBO. Big budgets, top talent, and absolutely no restrictions. Everyone was working under just one limit: what’s the best thing they could produce?

After the App Store, Mac apps are like a show on network television. The limits there are much more real: what’s the best thing you can produce, under the restrictions imposed by broadcast standards?

The way I see it, under the new rules, there’s the risk that Mac software might occasionally be as good as “The West Wing” but it could never be as great as “Boardwalk Empire” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or (the absolutely shattering documentary) “How To Die In Oregon.”

“Futurama” and Conan O’Brien were forced to flee to cable TV, while “Family Guy” and Jay Leno continue to flourish on networks. Honest to God…is that what you’d like to see happen to Mac software?

[Notes: Yes, thank you, I know that “Family Guy” was exiled to cable for a bit before being brought back to FOX. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a lazy, sucky show. And the larger point is that creative endeavors don’t exactly flourish under content limitations.

At minimum, the new rules represent a major (and hopefully only temporary) setback. It’s going to take some time — maybe even a couple of years — before developers learn how to do everything they need to do under App Store restrictions, and Apple learns which of these restrictions could stand some loosening up. And until that happens, there will be some very real limitations on how good a Mac app can be.]

9 thoughts on “One More Lame Analogy About The App Store

  1. dusanmal

    “It’s going to take some time — maybe even a couple of years — before developers learn how to do everything they need to do under App Store restrictions, and Apple learns which of these restrictions could stand some loosening up” – sorry but that time is infinity. The whole purpose of what Apple did is to control. Control customers, control those who produce for customers. There is no space here for adjusting restrictions (but for tightening them in case developers find some loophole). Under lame excuse that it is for “customer benefit” because “Apple knows best” (implied in it: customers are dumb infants. If that.). Progressivism in software and hardware. No freedom because it is dangerous. The real 1984.

  2. Judgejoolz

    Absolutely agree with Andy. I’ve been running a Mac alongside my PC since 2006, and since 2007 have used iPhone and (more recently) iPad devices too. However, with these changes afoot I’m only going to retain my iPad (3rd Gen) for content consumption. I’m going to use my iMac as a Win 7 PC, to compliment my custom PC…and I’ll be donating my iPhone to my wife.

  3. Drew

    As always, control is ultimately in the hands of the consumer: if we stop buying apps from the MAS, completely as a protest against its ridiculous restrictions, Apple will be forced to adjust its methods.


  4. Scavenger

    Ah, but Craig Ferguson is on network!
    (doesn’t defy your point, mind you..just pointing it out)

  5. Sajohto

    Restrictions are not automatically a bad thing and don’t inherently impair creativity.

    Music without key and time signatures is just noise; poetry without meter and tempo is just a rant; art without a colour wheel or understanding of proportions and the golden ratio is just a daub on a fridge.

    I’m not saying that Apple’s App Store restrictions are a good thing, just that sometimes a restriction or two can help to bring out something great. And the truly great people will continue to be great regardless.

  6. realist

    Andy, I do get the gist of your post (which I read as exclusively referring to app sandboxing and gatekeeper signing as opposed to the other preexisting curation related restrictions) however I want to at least point out that this is not some sort of slapped together half baked entirely unneeded or undesirable direction that Apple is taking the platform in for the fun of it.

    Analogies from computers and software to vehicles and movies or tv shows are always questionable but hey I guess thats why they call it an analogy at some point…no one said they are good ones!

    The fact of the matter is the MAS is necessarily going to exclude some software as long as it has any rules whatsoever, the only issue for debate is exactly where to draw the lines and to what ends. No such discussion is safe without a very large supply of tinfoil hats so I’ll skip right over that worn out angst ridden topic.

    The limitations on “how good a Mac app can be” are not really circumscribed by the limitations of the MAS in general in my opinion — I think what you meant to say there (not trying to put words into your mouth), or were otherwise conflating into that phrase was more to do with the limitations on “how much an app can do by default (with data and resources it does not own) without some form of user (intent revealing) interaction”? I do not concede that this somehow necessarily or likely limits “how good a Mac app can be” as I believe there are quite elegant workarounds to most if not all the sandboxing and usability issues people are perceiving. That is not to say that all workarounds are going to be easy to implement or retrofit into existing codebases and designs however!

    Another thing I think we are seeing when it comes to these types of changes is “loss aversion”. Namely we are all used to the way things have “always been” and now that software is, arguably, having to mature into a world where trust is a finer grained opt in concept rather than always being taken as an absolute given we tend to only see the up front costs. Those costs on first glance often appear to us as outsized negatives and seemingly ominous restrictions. However we have not reaped any of the rewards yet nor have we actually seen the true costs of the current sandboxing and authentication implementations. I would suggest the rewards will largely be better privacy controls and a decent assurance that apps are not covertly messing with our private data and the continued lack of significant widespread malware and possibly an increase in overall robustness.

    I’m pretty sure the folks in Cupertino who do actually know better than all of us commenting here about security matters have put some deep thought into it over the last few years that has gotten us all to this point…

    There are many very widely held misconceptions about the separate but related security changes being made in OS X 10.8. First off the Mac App Store (MAS), Sandboxing, and Gatekeeper are three completely separate things that tend to get conflated together in different ways by different people making different arguments or assumptions.

    If people take off their collective tinfoil hats for a bit they will in fact likely see that sandboxing is not some evil AAPL plot for a mandatory 70 you/30 them split of all commercial software on the Mac or some convoluted form of just imposing control for the sake of control — believe it or not I don’t really think Tim Cook et al are staying up nights dreaming up new restrictions on your freedom to run arbitrary software on your mac because it gives Richard Stallman and the everything should be as free and/or open as I ideologically want it (except when I don’t) at this exact moment crowd yet another seizure and sign of the end times moment.

    It’s apparent that Apple is very definitely leveraging a big stick over Mac developers to force them to implement sandboxing and possibly to declare a privacy or usage policy in order to access personal data if they want or need the carrot of being allowed in the Mac App Store but I would argue Apple has little choice in order to get to where they want to take the end user in any reasonable time frame.

    I actually do assert that the main and quite likely the sole reason the little fruit company from California is requiring MAS developers implement fine grained sandboxing and gatekeeper signatures (at least if you want your app to run on the default install of OS X 10.8) is for end users data security and the good of the platform and overall ecosystem going forward.

    In the near term this transition to sandboxed and authenticated apps is definitely going to be somewhat rough for many developers. Certain more “power user” targeted classes of software that were designed and implemented in the era of literally no restrictions are definitely taking the brunt of it and being fairly vocal about it. However there are also thousands of Mac Apps for which the additional sandboxing MAS requirements are only going to take less than an hours or two’s work – if your App is self contained and doesn’t need to access files or data it doesn’t own and that the user has not explicitly specified then you will have very little to do as a developer to be sandboxed.

    You can choose to see this as useless busy work that is necessary to jump through hoops to be on the MAS or you can choose to see this as something you just need to do to be responsible and end user centric in 2012 as an OS X developer that helps maintain the overall security of the platform. The first viewpoint is counterproductive at best because your essentially saying you actually know better than the security team at Apple (I’m pretty sure a certain cynic in particular would be amused by this) or that your needs as a developer are substantially more important than the end users who buy or use your software alongside their important private data.

    I am sure Apple could do a better job of it given a year or two’s experience and hindsight but they simply have to start down this road sometime and soon in order to stay ahead of the exploiters. If they waited another 6 months or a year and only made minor tweaks, I am pretty sure we would be hearing most all the same issues from most all the same people, furthermore I am of the opinion that this issue will turn out to be significantly less of a problem than it is being made out to be for the vast majority of otherwise MAS eligible apps. I am also sure some few older apps that essentially require rewriting will never be updated – such is the cost of progress.

    These changes are indeed significant, scary, and inconvenient in many ways for developers but I really do believe they are the correct way to go until someone can come up with something dramatically better that is actually practical – the top priority has to be the end user and allowing them to specify security policy in an intuitive way at a level finer than “any app I run can go ahead and steal or mangle all my data and install malware/spyware/badware against my intent and behind my back because hey no sandbox and all software is bug free and of honorable intent towards one and all!”

    It is 2012 now not 2007 or 2001 and the threat environment has definitely changed for the worse. In the face of the expanding threats the attack surfaces simply have to be minimized to a much greater extent if the platform is to continue to be resilient, thrive and expand without actually risking devolving into something even a bit more like the MS Windows malware experience. The very good news is the major operating systems have been getting vastly more secure at their cores over the last several years but unfortunately application level software simply has not kept up because effectively all such software runs in one giant user account level sandbox — one that conveniently also contained all your data and that has your access rights to it! This is increasingly untenable and irresponsible in 2012 and so it is definitely time to implement a much more fined grained security model across the entire OS.

    Security and pretty much any issue remotely related to it is and always has been about trade offs and will likely always continue to be; both the ones you make and the ones you choose not to make.

  7. Appape

    I didn’t read realist’s post, so hopefully I’m not rehashing, but I agree with Sajohto. Restrictions can be wonderful. Howard Stern flourished under restrictions, then nearly disappeared when they were lifted. Look at the MAS as a part of a larger experience – the restrictions that may stifle creativity will also enhance interoperability, user experience and stability. Adding pressure can refine coal into a diamond. Totally agree about HBO/Network TV though.

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