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Amazon Takes Aim at the Mac App Store

Whoa! Amazon has unexpectedly unveiled the Mac Downloads Store, offering a small selection of Macintosh software and games that are presumably available in boxed form from Amazon as well. Apart from packages from a few big name developers, like Microsoft, Adobe, and Intuit, as of this writing most of the 200 software packages seem to be language learning courses and training software. Of the rest, 51 are games.

In the version of this article initially published on the Web, I wondered why independent Mac developers who don’t generally sell through physical channels weren’t included. It turns out that Amazon did approach a number of well-known developers, but either Amazon wasn’t sufficiently persuasive or the developers felt that the opportunity wasn’t sufficiently lucrative for the effort involved, and none of those I’ve heard from jumped at the chance.

I suspect that, as they find the time to deal with another channel, many Mac developers will start selling through Amazon’s Mac Downloads Store as well. Although merely being listed in Amazon is no guarantee of sales, the main downside is working with yet another reseller (but that can be non-trivial for a small developer). On the positive end, Amazon presumably won’t exercise the same level of approval that Apple requires for inclusion in the Mac App Store, thus enabling developers to sell software through Amazon that Apple won’t allow.

One area where Amazon doesn’t appear to be trying to compete with the Mac App Store is in integration. Although purchases remain accessible for later download from Amazon, there’s currently no indication that Amazon has any way (short of email) of notifying customers of updates, and any updates made available for download would require manual downloading and installation. In its FAQ, Amazon says:

Some games and software will automatically look for patches and updates for you. For other products which do not automatically update, you may need to find updates and patches directly on the product manufacturer’s website.

Another comment in the FAQ is somewhat worrying, although no additional details are provided. With respect to DRM, Amazon says:

DRM software is part of your game or software download. Please refer to the End User License Agreement (EULA) for your software for more information.

It’s impossible to draw conclusions about which store might prove cheaper in the long run. Right now, there are relatively few products that exist in both the Mac Downloads Store and the Mac App Store; I found MacFreelance and Logo Design Studio Pro from Macware. Both were cheaper than from Macware’s own Web site, but a sale on the Mac App Store made MacFreelance cheaper there, whereas a $5 discount on Logo Design Studio Pro made it cheaper on the Mac Downloads Store.

At the moment, the Amazon Mac Downloads Store isn’t nearly as impressive as the Mac App Store, but Amazon has a great deal of retailing experience and has shown the patience necessary to build up a market. In a year or so, the Mac Downloads Store could be a credible way to find and purchase a wide variety of Mac software.

Usage -- To see what using Amazon’s Mac Downloads Store is like, I downloaded an inexpensive game — Airport Mania: First Flight. (When the store first launched, this title was free.)

Once you purchase an application, you’re given the option of downloading it right away, or retrieving it later from Amazon’s Your Games and Software Library. If the software requires product activation keys, you’ll get them from Your Games and Software Library as well.

Click Start Download to display another Web page with instructions. These are a bit sketchy, but in essence, what Amazon is doing is having you retrieve the Amazon Software Downloader application, stored on a disk image. You don’t need to copy the Amazon Software Downloader to your hard disk; just launch it from the disk image to continue the download process.

The Amazon Software Downloader then proceeds to retrieve your purchase, storing it in your Downloads folder, and presenting you with an Install button when it’s done. You might expect it to install the app in your Applications folder, but you’d be wrong; clicking Install instead opens the disk image for your purchase. In the case of Airport Mania, installation was merely a matter of drag-and-drop, but I suspect other applications will use installers.

In the end, although there were a lot of separate steps — the Mac Downloads Store was nowhere near as simple as using the Mac App Store — none of them were particularly difficult for anyone who has purchased downloadable software before.


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Comments about Amazon Takes Aim at the Mac App Store
(Comments are closed.)

Doppleherz  2011-05-26 18:04
The store is only available to the US, we already have macupdate, the Mac App Store already has an incredible catalogue and there is already Steam for games. Amazon's software store will need something special to become something at all.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-27 06:03
Good eye on noticing it was U.S. only - I couldn't find anything on that in my first glance.
Peter Hillman  2011-05-26 20:58
I am currently downloading the Mac version of The Sims 3 Medieval, and using the $5 discount, I got the game for $36. So I wouldn't say the available titles are from small companies without boxed copies available. EA is quite a large company. Searched Apple's App Store and they don't have any Sims titles. Amazon win, for now. Very convenient, even though it is a whopping 4.6 GB! There is a bug in the downloader program. The time remaining number is accurate, but it will always says HOURS. It doesn't change from Hours to minutes to seconds. So your download will appear to take LONGER based on the information displayed. As the seconds ticked away, it appeared to be 46 hours remaining, instead of 46 seconds remaining.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-27 06:05
I think you misunderstand. Amazon is carrying only titles from larger companies that DO likely have boxed copies that are already sold though Amazon, so The Sims fits perfectly into that category.

But most Mac software comes from smaller independent developers, and it's that group I don't see right now.
Doug Grinbergs  2011-05-27 00:34
JFTHOI, thought I'd try downloading the free game. Stuck at Please Review and Place Your Order page with no apparent means of placing order; button disabled. (:-(
Doug Grinbergs  2011-05-27 00:39
Select Windows download
Select Mac download
[Get the game FREE]
[Complete purchase]
John Brayton  2011-05-27 07:29
I am an independent developer. I received information about submitting my app, CloudPull, to Amazon Mac Software Downloads in late January.

I considered it, but decided that it would not be worth the time and effort. Maintaining an app in the Mac App Store has significant time costs and disadvantages, but the advantage is very clear: roughly 2/3 of my sales come from the Mac App Store. It is easy to understand why this is the case: the Mac App Store exists on every Mac running the latest version of Snow Leopard, and is well integrated into the Mac user experience. I honestly cannot think of a situation in which a customer might be more likely to buy my product through Amazon Mac Software Downloads than through either my web site or the Mac App Store.

I suspect most independent developers have also been offered the opportunity to list products in the Mac Software Downloads store, but have chosen not to for the same reasons I have. I think Amazon has an uphill battle here. They need to attract more developers in order to attract more customers; they need to attract more customers in order to attract more developers; and they cannot integrate their store directly into Mac OS X.
Peter Hillman  2011-05-30 09:02
The problem with the Apple App Store is that it is limited to Snow Leopard Macs only. Not everyone has upgraded to Snow Leopard. Amazon's offerings are based on the requirements of the actual software title, not Apple's forced requirement. The game I bought runs on Leopard, but if Apple offered it in their App Store (they don't), a Mac user running Leopard would not be able to buy it through the App Store even though it can run on their Mac. The App Store is also filled with hundreds of crap software, just like the iOS App Store. Finding good software is quite difficult. Also, just because it is on a Mac with SL, doesn't mean everyone knows about it. Many people I know that have SL, never realized it was installed after the update. While browsing for the game on Amazon, the Mac Download option was very easy to see. The benefit of Amazon for now is that any Mac can access it, which is not true of the App Store.
Dennis B. Swaney  2011-06-08 10:32
A major problem with the MAS is that the user can't get frequent updates & bug fixes. Also, if you DL a product from the MAS and then DL an update direct from the developer, the update doesn't recognize the MAS-sourced software as legally licensed. For some reason the license key, code, etc, that is normally stored in the product's plist, isn't there for a MAS-sourced product. And since I prefer that developers get 100% of my money, I won't use the MAS where they only get up to 70%.
Mike Bentley  2011-05-27 13:03
What is Amazon's pricing policy for this? Do they get to change your prices? What's Amazon's take on each sale, and is that consistently true with all of all of Amazon's publishers, or are they offering Microsoft a much better deal? Once the store establishes a beachhead, is Amazon's take going to go up?