I think the App Store will be a big hit – just not necessarily for music, at least not away. The problem: demand and economics. Photo (CC-BY) Rob Boudon.

App stores these days seem to have become a magical panacea that creates new businesses, solves long-standing problems, makes you enormous profits, and cures hair loss. There may indeed be some great solutions for software makers that evolve over time, but to get there, we may first need a reality check.

I have to disagree strongly with James Lewin at Synthtopia:
What The Mac App Store Means For Musicians

The Mac App Store James describes there becomes the solution for all future music distribution, spawning a new market for free-to-$15 music creation apps. He even argues that the store may erode Windows development and turn the software industry upside down:

The next Propellerhead Reason, the next Ableton Live, the next Native Instruments Komplete will probably come from a company that sees the opportunity for creating mass market โ€œprosumerโ€ music apps.

Some of this may eventually come to pass, but there’s a big gap between that vision and where we are now, evidenced by an app store largely devoid of the kinds of music software on which producers and DJs today rely. (Really – go take a look.)

So, what’s the hold-up? We predicted that the App Store wouldn’t be a huge hit for music after talking to developers back in December:
Appleโ€™s App Store May Not Work for Audio Devs; Developers Respond

I think I was actually even more optimistic then than now about iOS apps. Many apps haven’t made the leap from iPhone to iPad; assuming they’ll jump to a fundamentally-different Mac platform is now seeming wildly unrealistic. The Mac App Store is sure to be a success for lots of Mac software, even out of the gate, but here’s why I think music apps may not immediately take:

1. There isn’t much music creation software yet, apart from GarageBand.
Without software, this whole debate is academic. Apple’s GarageBand is an early entrant – and that may be part of the problem. On iOS, developers are motivated in part by Apple’s perceived ability to promote their work. What’s the incentive for developers making software that competes with Apple to submit to the Mac App Store – particularly when they have other distribution mechanisms at their disposal (like selling directly to you)?

2. You can’t sell plug-ins.
The single most popular form of one-off music software, the thing most likely to be a commodity, isn’t possible on the Mac App Store at this time. Maybe JACK will catch on, but…

3. It requires extra work to submit to the Mac App Store, to run on a platform developers can already easily target.
Remember, music developers are often made up of small teams or even just one or two people. Even at bigger houses like an Avid or Native Instruments, developer time is at a premium. There has to be a strong incentive to change the development process.

4. Restrictions on development tools, limited copy protection, and Apple’s approval process will scare away some music developers.
Remember, developers have to commit time to use the Apple store – and these restrictions could further limit what kinds of software they can make or how they can make it. It’s not up to you whether to commit that time; it’s up to the developer. On the iPhone or iPad, there’s a strong argument for giving up control to Apple – it’s the only way to target these platforms, the platforms are unique, and demand is high. That isn’t necessarily the case on the Mac.

5. Porting from iPhone/iPod touch or iPad to the Mac doesn’t always make sense.
The iPad and iPhone platforms have touch input; the Mac doesn’t. And these other platforms are so popular for software toys, single-use apps, and the like in part because of their mobility and the elegant design around that mobility. A Mac laptop or iMac is mobile, but people don’t use it in the same way. That means designing around the desktop computer – and so far, there’s not evidence that users have the same voracious demand for apps there that they do on the mobile platform.

6. Ease of buying can help fulfill demand, but it doesn’t create demand that isn’t already there.
Building a software business model, I’d imagine you’d ask yourself some questions:
Who’s the audience, and how large is the demand for the tool?
What application fills that demand?
How much are they willing to pay for that solution?
How does the cost of development and support compare to how much they’re willing to pay for it?

If you satisfy these issues, having a great distribution mechanism could indeed increase sales. But in the case of the Mac App Store, with other alternatives, these conditions have to be balanced

Now, some might argue that Apple’s app store has created demand on the iPhone. Really? You’re telling me that, prior to Apple creating iTunes, people didn’t want to while away hours playing addictive games like Angry Birds? (Okay, maybe you really haven’t heard of Tetris. Now, imagine a vending machine that dispenses Tetris. That’d be a big hit, too. You have to want the product for the distribution to matter.)

The Mac isn’t the only computer platform out there. And music creation software isn’t expensive, relative to other tools, by accident. It’s expensive because demand has traditionally been limited, and development and support costs are high.

It’s possible that James could be right in the long term about music software – it’d be fantastic, actually, in some ways, if he were. But the App Store alone isn’t the panacea. If music developers want to create a world of widely-consumed free and $15 music apps, they’ll first have to create apps that those consumers demand. Once they’ve got the demand, then the mechanism that dispenses the product can indeed be a huge success. But for now, I think it’ll be easier to do that on mobile platforms, given their portability, simplicity, and focus, than on the Mac. And I have to wonder if eventually the best solution for music applications would be one dedicated to the job.

Ultimately, the problem here seems to be ascribing the success of software on the iPad and iPhone to iTunes and the App Store. That misses the deeper message of these platforms: given mobility and more personal form factors, people use software differently. That’s a really profound discovery, especially to how music software is used in expression. It’s deep enough that the implications are almost certainly yet be fully realized; some of the greatest potential still remains ahead. Simply grafting a similar store onto the Mac, while it may prove useful, doesn’t make the Mac the same as an iPhone. It ignores the single most important thing about the iPhone: mobility.

  • I disagree with #6. The demand is created by the existence. If we do not have these things available then we do not want them. Children of the 1950's did not want to play video games. If the iPhone or iPad did not exist We would not have some unquenchable unfulfillable desire nagging at us. We wouldntcare. Companies create demand where none existed before by creating elegant, amazing, or useful products that people didnt know they wanted. But now that it exists, they NEED it. Case in point: radio, cars, television, cell phones, the daily show. 

  • Random Chance

    I had hoped that the App Store would streamline the purchase and update of AudioUnit plugins. That would have been a great thing in my book. There really should be a uniform installer/autoupdater framework that can be used free of charge by plugin developers on Mac OS. 

  • Human Plague

    Great article. Hooray for sanity PS: My laptop is mobile. 

  • I think you're right on everything except nr.6 as been already pointed out. Apple is one of those companies creating demand out of hot air. It's called marketing, and it's called making the useless suddenly useful (I know I'm exaggerating a bit here, but that's basically the concept). That's what makes our system work.
    Apart from that there is two things I fear most about this whole app store business. First: big multinational companies taking control of a market, creating a monopoly. Second a market invaded by a horde of prosumer apps that will slowly make the real pro apps more expensive.
    I like the idea to have musical toys on my iphone, but on the desktop I need software I can work with.

  • Christopher Penrose

    I think it is a positive development that plug-ins cannot be sold on the AppStore.  While plug-ins facilitate powerful workflows for music creation, most plug-in architectures have austere limitations by design, and those that do not (such as AudioUnits which support symmetric multi-bus mixing plug-ins) are limited by plug-in hosting software.  Because of these limitations, I haven't developed plug-ins for my signal processors beyond Max/MSP and pd.  But I like the idea of creating standalone applications where I am free to counter such limitations with my own code.

    The influence of standalone music apps in the mobile ecosystem has the potential to bring very interesting applications to the desktop in the Mac App Store.  Am I planning to develop for the Mac App Store in the next 6 months?  No.  Will I in 12 or 24?  I am very open to the possibility.   What will make music applications distributed through the Mac App Store interesting to serious musicians will be support for audio bussing as Peter alluded to when mentioning Jack.  I think Apple should roll their own audio bussing facility — the CoreAudio team understands the scope and complexity of the problem very well.  Developers can ask for it at bugreporter.apple.com.

  • Today, it is all about choices for artists. The Mac App Store is a desperate attempt by Apple to make up for the OSX software chasm that has been there all along.

  • Charles Baker

    "the Mac App Store is a desperate attempt by Apple to make up for the OSX software chasm that has been there all along."

    Well yes, there are more M$ devs than
    Mac…and numbers of potential users argue still for VisualStudio over Xcode, BUT….gee, perhaps they have noticed how the ios iphone/ipad store has *GREATLY* boosted development of ios apps, and wish to leverage such an advantage to the desktop world? nah, are they that smart?
    PS:" Desparate"? When they have been worth more $ than Mickro$quish for a while?…hmmm…well, they know they need to broaden the base of XCode users…and seem to be trying…

  • #7: you have to pay $99 just to find out the terms of the store. Apple certainly knows how to make a buck or three: just get 1000+ devs to be curious enough to find out, and that's $100,000 right there! And this in addition to anything you paid to develop on the iPhone.

  • @Christopher Penrose: "CoreAudio team understands the scope and complexity of the problem very well". I (the original author of JACK) has asked a couple of people on the CoreAudio team when and if they were going to do their own version of JACK, and they've explained that they have no plans to do so (specifically, they claim to not understand the problem it is intended to solve).

    I'm not going to expound on my theories of why not, but let me just mention two short phrases, "HDMI" and "content providers" and leave you to fill in the rest of my conspiracy theory ๐Ÿ™‚

  • kevin

    1 reason that "at least for now" is the crux of this entire post:

    Touchscreen iMac patent.


    Or google it and find articles from your preferred source.

    I agree with those who contend against 6. The demand is coming from people who didn't know they wanted something. They weren't demanding it in the traditional sense, but when it was placed in front of them for $0.99, they went to town.

    It's unfortunate that plugins are left out of the game, but the real telling "feature" will be what happens when the beast I linked above is released. If Apple prevents developers from using multitouch APIs unless their app goes through the store, well, suddenly the app store is important for music creation, albeit begrudgingly.

    Another thing, that's only really apparent after testing the store out, is that it likely minimizes development costs of cross-device apps (iPad + desktop, for instance). The free Sudoku Daily app looks identical to the iPad version, and likely required little to no effort in porting from the iPad app store to the desktop app store. What this means for music relies on the above link…

  • Peter Kirn

    @Charlie: Well, I'm not saying you can't create demand – more that you'd create demand with the platform, not just with the store. That is, a store could make it vastly easier for me to pick up Angry Birds – but I have to want something that wastes time. I'm not necessarily going to want a CAD program just because it's in the store.

    @Paul: I could find either (or both) explanations plausible, both your conspiracy theory and their claim that they didn't see the need. It seems to go like this: engineer makes A; it does thing A. Other engineer makes B; it does thing B. Customer gets A and B and thinks they should work together. Maker of A says, but A already does A; why does it need to talk to B? Why would you want to do that? (Or maker of C has some ridiculous fear that A and B will conspire to take away their C…)

    @kevin: Interesting. It still seems to me unlikely that Apple will release an iMac with touch; the patent seems too me to be more likely pre-emptive. That's still not a very comfortable position for touch – not quite the extreme "gorilla arm" you get from a vertical display, but still seems suspect. Of course, I'd be happy to be proven wrong (on both points – wrong that Apple won't give it a go, wrong that your arms would go numb).


    This is all in line with Jobs idea of fully integrated software available and, more crucially, easily understood by everyone.
    I kinda like his idea when it comes to hardware. It's easier to buy peripherals that match and software will (i know…) work better if the components are the same…
    However in his pursuit to build a hard / software solution that will merge us all in to some kind of unified end user drones he's of course missing (or not caring) that most us are not….
    His idea of the basic but multifunctional software with little or no options
    will appeal to a large number of people who wants to dabble in creative arts like photography, music and video etc.
    Because they're engineered to help the user to, very quickly, produce something that seems almost like the real thing it will encourage her to keep going and do more.
    That's great and and I applaud the thinking.
    However this business philosophy also leads to a  software that although it masquerades 
    as a limitless creative tool very much guides the user to put together the pieces in a pre determined way….

    Most people who work creatively also work differently and uses several path to reach a gol that is many times essentially the same. They will use a limited or almost unlimited 
    amount of tools and aids to produce their creation.
    Jobs and Apple have decided to ignore those individuals. From a business point of 
    view maybe that is a good thing……?
    However when the appeal of the bright shiny "app" has worn off the general public will
    look for the new toy to amuse them and there's never been any indication from
    past history that there isn't a new player ready around the corner.
    Creatives will have moved on long before that. The ipad is convenient now but will 
    soon be replaced by something that will allow you to customise, or not, however you
    Trying to lock people in to a well gated propriety system will eventually lead to
    the slow agonising death of Apple Inc, we simply don't want to die at 30 however much
    good it would do society ๐Ÿ˜‰



    Deepest apologies for the paragraph breaks in the last comment. I have no idea why that happened.
    The spelling is just because I'm a shit speller ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I agree with you Peter.  But I hope your wrong, because ever since I got into mobile music making I've constantly wished for simple, cheap, standalone music apps to come out for PC and Mac, instead of as plugins, like they do for mobile platforms. Even though I have lots of powerful softs like Ableton Suite, Reason 5, Maschine, etc.  

    But I'm in the minority here for sure.  And, not to mention just because it's in an app store doesn't mean the prices will be cheap like they are in the mobile app stores.

  • Dave Dri

    As a long-time user of Steam, the gaming distribution app that blossomed into a fully fledged online store and community to boot, I have to admit that it is only my increasing distrust and distaste of some of Apple's business practices that leave me underwhelmed by the news of a "Now For Our Other Devices!!!" service. 
    Despite Apple putting their favourite word in this (and every other) press release, citing a "revolutionary" new experience, this is just another distribution service. I hope we see more of them, and even if the Mac App Store becomes dominant (like Beatport has for dance music in most demographics), I'm sure there will always be alternatives. For my tastes, I'm not interested outside of a technical sense. Why?
    – I've watched industry colleagues struggle to get valid Apps approved, while Apple continues to sell many fraudulent Apps, e.g. iPhone Mirror applications designed to decieve users.- The level of astroturfing within the Apple App store frameworks is unmatched.- The current App stores contain more shovelware than useful tools, so despite the glossy advertising campaigns, Apple's curating and distribution has not yeilded a "revolution" as promised. We can discuss the embarassing iPhone port of ReBirth RB-338 if you want to talk regressive trends. – A growing unease for the limitations of Apple products (no USB, no native file xfer, one Library sync, etc) plagues the commercial side of the user experience. The downside of sole-sourced "synergies" is that they fail at the weakest point. – The issues with a portable device still LARGELY used for basic comms or entertainment are one thing, but embracing Apple's rules and service for mission critical computing processes is unthinkable. Yes, even on their own OS and hardware. I'm struggling with that irony myself. 
    Maybe I just like the work of Apple programmers more than I do their legal and project management teams? I'm happy for that to change, but I'm still stuck on a Steam-alike distro being "revolutionary". It's 2011. Where's my flying car? 

  • Best surprise of the App Store so far? The SoundCloud app, currently number 8 in the "Top Free" apps list.

  • Jonah

    No plugins means no softsythns. ๐Ÿ™
    What If the developer made a standalone app? Could they "bundle" a plugin with it to get around this? Most of them are small enough to be emailed easily.

    For all its (many) faults the ipod app store is reasonably good at curating software. The reviews are poorly written, but honest and helpful. Even though people are only out a few dollars, if they don't like the app, they'll let you know!

    It could  also  have been a good way to monetize patches for things like reaktor, pd, and various synths and get some much needed reviews too. I'd throw a dollar at the free ones I use if it was easy to pay the creators.

    What about midi files and project files for software could you sell those? If for example I could get 100 quality Latin rhythm midi files and a couple megs worth of good samples for a few dollars when I get a weird urge like tthat late at  night instead of wasting time searching on the net it would be worth it. Selling renoise files would be nice too. All the samples are are bundled. I don't necessarily want your music, but the structure and effects that you spent hours making.Or Logic projects with complex environments/automation. Putting a little money into the mix would make us all a little better about sharing those extraneous files.

    Maybe in a few years.  

  • remix

    Peter you nailed it.  

  • strunkdts

    Jobs/Apple = The Borg = they suck.

  • midihendrix

    it seems like all this means little for those (most people) who use warez

  • genjutsushi

    Delighted at the App store to be honest as it has one of the best functions of the iPod version transferred – automatic notification of updates! a life saver for music app users!

  • genjutsushi

    oh … that and having a third party keep a record of all your application purchases instead of a heap of authentication keys and DVDs littering your inbox and shelf space. Much more effective and safe

  • David

    @midihendrix I actually disagree re: those using warez. Generally, it looks like two things are happening with the App Store: apps are getting cheaper, and easier to download. It's true that for some people, software will never be cheap or easy enough to rule out using warez. But for at least a few, the benefits (stable software, technical support, easy updating) will justify going legit. Think about something like Garageband – sure, you could pirate it, but $15 isn't much, you know?

  • OS based "App Stores" are nothing new.
    I remember way back in the early 00's there was this linux distro called "linspire" who had the very same thing. I remember thinking back then "when this catches on it's gonna be hotness".

    It took the iPhone platform to make that happen. You needed a locked down platform where people had no other choice, to really demonstrate the convenience of something like that.

    Now … I know for now, there's no plugins and such. But imagine this in a couple years in cahoots with something like NI's service center for licensing sampler instruments and synths.

    And at the right price? If I can get me a new piano right in the middle of a project with one click … I'll be spending some moolah.

  • RayFlower

    I think the whole point with the app store on mac was to attract casual gamers.If i don't recall wrong, the most popular ios apps are in fact games, something osx has lacked for years, even with steam.These games are dumbed down and optimized for touch.
    But take their magic trackpad, or any tablet out there, you'll be surprised how well it works with apps designed for touch screen usage.

    I've used x86-andorid that way myself with vmware and my old wacom for instance so I'm a bit more positive about the 1:1 or 1:1,5 ports.

    And actually, I would be more excited about than than just getting poor cider(the horror the pain) ports of windows games, they actually have a market here and i do understand their wish to expand upon that.

    Another idea, how about using the ipod touch or whatever as a control for your apps?
    This has already been done for music apps in a way, but i think it provides a interesting opportunity for developers which hasn't considered to port their ios games to osx previously.

  • Christopher Penrose

    @Paul   It is surprising that you had that impression from folks on the CoreAudio team. I do have Jack installed and it works great, my advocacy for an Apple solution was simply to streamline matters for users.

  • Peter

    I have to take issue with your strongly worded statement, "I think the App Store will be a big hit – just not necessarily for music, at least not (right) away."

    And when you go on to say that "The Mac App Store Means Little for Music Creation – At Least For Now", it's clear that you think that this new development is not important to musicians, but that it might turn out to be a game-changer.

    My opinion might be described as diametrically opposed to yours.

  • RichardL

    Regarding #5: It should be noted that porting from iOS to Mac OSX is not always trivial. The UI frameworks are completely different.

  • @SPINNER: Sorry but that's just utter nonsense. You're only revealing yourself as yet another irrational hater of Apple by claiming Mac applications are "basic but multifunctional software with little or no options" and that "although it masquerades as a limitless creative tool very much guides the user to put together the pieces in a pre determined way". Try telling that to creative professionals that rely on Final Cut or Logic to make their living.

  • Peter Kirn

    Yep, we disagree. I can't imagine how a statement I made that has not one but two qualifications counts as strongly worded, though.

    I don't think this is a game changer, no; but does everything have to be a game changer? For that matter, to give all credit on the iPhone and iPad to the store would ignore all the work Apple did on OS and hardware and developer tools and all the work the third parties did on the actual software. 

  • Indeed Peter…not everything Apple does has to be a game changer. Apple mostly just does little bits here and there that add up to make a big change. Very strategic players.

    The Mac app store is a logical progression. Let's see what happens next?

  • midihendrix

    @ David, yes thats true… in the past it took seconds to install various cracked programs – the legit version required logging into the net or calling the company or even worse, usb dongles…..so we should hope that the app store doesn't use complicated protection schemes.

    I guess its a matter of whether or not those high end developers are ready to put their stuff in the app store.

    Maybe the app store isn't for -every- type of music app, such as some of the more expensive specialized stuff.

    For me whats sad about this whole situation is that if the app store follows the iphone path, we will probably see way too many toys for nonmusicians.

    The real developers who could benefit from a centralized app store are those making plugins. A "dubstep bass" vst would be guaranteed to be a hit in the imaginary plugin store.

  • midihendrix

    @ SPINNER………

    most audio applications are identical on windows and apple. ableton windows has all the same options as ableton apple. (although in my experience apple crashes more). i really dont see where youre trying to go with this

  • DBM

    Well the shop down the road just opened and guess what they don't got s#!t ! Well not yet anyway …. It will take a little time , but I imagine them making revisions to there rules concerning plugins especially in a/v editor-Daw market . Thats said . It may be a very good thing for all paries concerned .

    Dev – X pays the 30% off sales and getts :
    Larger Distribution potential 
    Less Server fees
    No Creditcard processing
    No distribution cut or boxes ( if aplicable )   No R&D on anti piracy (?)
    Now that may be more pertinent to small – med sized sw dev's , but the end result could mean for the end user :
    No need for creditcards ( as apple giftcards will work)
    No more c/r , or dongles
    Ease of install / uninstall 
    And if the larger market access + hosting distribution+ cost anti piracy stuff to play in the dev's favor then quite possibly lower ticked prices for us end users !
    Now of couse this remains to the will of the rules changing , but I am 99% sure they will as for now they seam preventative against malware and system instability more than anything else . 
    Ok rant over , but I think it's a solid argument and very realistic .               

  • DBM

    P.S. it's cold and I have the typo shivers today . lol 

  • Non-mobile hardware will alway be more powerful: 

    Bigger fans = faster cpu = more potential for media creation.

  • remix

    hey what about this,  I often take my iLok and go to studios and use my paid for software on third party machines.  when the gig is done I grab my dongle and go home.  with the app store there's no notion of portable liscenes.  this means you can use the stuff other systems, you have to buy again.

  • The Mac app store does not preclude a steam type distribution service for music applications and plug ins set up independently.

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  • Popolon

    And what about Android market, as Android sell grow faster than Apple one, and Android devices beat Apple devices in number of units sold.

    @rad_racer : not ok with you, today arm architecture used in such kind of devices (iphone/ipad/android/…) has really efficient and dedicated hardware for sound or video tasks. They are able to do the most common things efficiently, but developer have to use API with care to get benefits of these platforms.

  • @Popolon: Android is not relevant to this discussion which is about "desktop" app stores. Android, by the way, still has a long way to go before even approaching iOS for both hardware and software support when it comes to audio development.

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