Apple announced a new Black Unity watchband and wallpapers this week. That post mentioned (in a footnote) in that iOS 17.3 will drop next week. (Not a big surprise, as we got RCs for iOS 17.3, macOS 14.3, and siblings this week.)

We have the Toronto Mac Admins community meetup coming up (Jan 30), and PSU MacAdmins Conference has announced their dates (July 9-12) and is calling for speakers and sponsors.

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πŸ“Έ Focus

There were two separate news items regarding the Apple Store. First, the US Supreme Court decided not to hear Apple's and Epic's appeals in their case, which is regarded as an overall win for Apple. However, as a consequence, Apple will allow links to websites with payment options outside of the App Store in the US (The Verge, Michael Tsai).

On this side of the Atlantic, Apple seems to be preparing the EU App Stores (there is still, unbelievably, one App Store per country) to allow some form of sideloading to comply with the upcoming Digital Markets Act (DMA). No details are yet known how exactly that will look like, but there are less than seven weeks left until the deadline on March 7. (Which means, we might see what this looks like in the iOS 17.4 and macOS 14.4 betas that should drop next week after the release of iOS 17.3 and macOS 14.3.)

The move in the US is an absurdly minimal concession to "opening" up the App Store, especially since Apple still demands 27% (12% for developers in the App Store Small Business Program) of proceeds generated by links from Apps on Apple Platforms. While I understand that Apple has a duty towards their shareholders to defend and maintain profits, I consider this an extremely developer and user hostile move on Apple's part.

The 30% cut for software distribution was a revolutionary concept when Apple introduced the iTunes (Music) Store in 2003. A mere five years later, Apple transferred the concept to the new iPhone App Store. The App Store was a huge success for Apple. For many developers it started a price race to the bottom, with the vague hope of "making it up in volume." The notion that apps should be 99 cents, or free became somehow part of public consciousness. Developers and users have always been asking for upgrade pricing in the App Store but Apple has pushed in-App purchases and subscriptions instead.

The main argument in favor of the closed-garden model of the App Store is that Apple can reject malicious and scam software. While it is certainly true that Apple filters huge amounts of malware and scams, there are still scores of scammy apps and developers that somehow circumvent the review process, in many cases repeatedly. On the other hand, there are regular reports from legitimate apps and developers that are harassed by capricious review decisions.

Managing and curating the App Store is certainly a gargantuan task and there will always be false positives and negatives. But Apple took this job on themselves. No-one had asked them for this. The Mac was doing great before the App Store and still has a rich software market outside of it. Any goodwill Apple might have earned when they set out with noble intentions in 2008 is used up. Now, it is difficult to avoid the impression that Apple is not competing on quality, but instead taxing access.

Epic, a company whose most lucrative game has a profit model based on lootboxes, i.e. the gambling dopamine surge, was, despite all their marketing attempts, never an adequate paragon to "fight for the user." The result is the toothless concession that Apple has to allow links to outside payment systems, but is also allowed to still demand a share of those profits. Apple's implemention, with specific entitlements a developer has to request (and that can be revoked) and an amazingly dramatic "warning" screen, cannot be called anything else but spiteful. It is the users, and developers who are getting the short end of the stick.

Apple claims they compete with quality and ease of use, and their customers are willing to pay for a better experience. Generally, they succeed with this. But with the App Store, Apple has a strange blind spot. They have no competition and it shows. The App Store is neither safe nor easy to use. It is littered with ads (that Apple earns more profit from). It has a significant cost for developers, and instead of getting good value in the form of a safe market place, small developers live with the permanent risk that their income disappears because of some unpredictable review decision or because some scam developer outspends them on ad placements.

More than 15 years after its introduction, entire categories of apps and tools are still excluded from the App Stores. Many creative ideas will never be realized, because developers believe they will never pass review. For Mac admins, despite the fact that Apple has been cajoling developers to use in-App purchases and subscriptions, we cannot manage either with Apps & Books (formerly known as VPP).

I had a glimmer of hope that regulations like the DMA might have forced the App Store to compete on quality and improve the experience for users and developers (and maybe for admins).

But after the spiteful implementation of external purchase links in the US, my hope that Apple's "solution" will have the users' or developers' interest in mind seems futile. I have long given up hope that Mac admins needs in distributing and managing apps are even the slightest consideration in Apple's plans for the App Store. The Apps & Books (formerly known as VPP) will remain the broken kludgy afterthought solution we have.

This is even more frustrating, as other parts of Apple's Enterprise strategy and management technology have improved significantly over the last few years.

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