The NeXT Machine Rocks

I just got the new Twitter client from the new Mac App Store. It’s lovely and minimalist and seems to be missing an integrated URL shortener. (Tweetie, upon which this app is supposedly based, offered a choice of three — go figure.)

Fact is, I’m sick of having some apps with URL shorteners and some without and for the mechanism being different from one place to another. Then it occurred to me that this was exactly the kind of thing “Application Services” — you know, that clumsy feature from NeXTStep that’s been in Mac OS X since it was called Rhapsody but no-one ever uses — are for. And I dimly recalled that Automator lets you create services.

So I googled “mac os x url shortener service” and found this. Here’s the AppleScript snippet from that article:

on run {input, parameters}
  set dlstring to ((path to temporary items folder as string) & "shortURL.html")
  tell application "URL Access Scripting"
    download ("http://bit.ly/api?url=" & (item 1 of the input)) to dlstring replacing yes
  end tell
  set x to open for access dlstring
  set aurl to read x
  close access x
  return aurl
end run

I then launched Automator, created a new service, and wasted a bunch of time trying to figure out how to import AppleScripts into Automator. (Apparently you don’t — you use the “Run Applescript” Automator Action.)

Automator in Action

And now I get system-wide URL shortening. (Sadly it’s two levels deep in the global context menu, but at least I know it’s always there.)

P.S. all this work was redundant because the new Twitter client automagically shortens URLs and counts the tweet’s length assuming a shortened URL. But because it does this completely transparently but with no visual indication (e.g. ghosting in the shortened URL or something) it’s not obvious. So while it’s nice to have a URL shortening service that works everywhere on my Mac now, I don’t need it for Twitter.app.

Childhood’s End

Today, the App Store is live. Simply update your Mac to 10.6.6 and then select App Store from the Apple Menu.

First Impressions

  • A lot of very polished “name brand” software and very little obvious junk. This is not Android marketplace or even the iOS App Store. A pretty good selection for day one.
  • Yes, the icon does suck.
  • Yes, Angry Birds is the bestselling App (apparently the $4.99 intro price is “50% off”).
  • Twitter is free, so I grabbed that as my first test. Seamless. It just works. No password required. (Note that there’s no clean uninstall process yet!)
  • I also found the Penny Arcade games selling for $3.99 each so I grabbed them. (I have to say my first impressions are very positive; I’ve never seen 3d toon-rendering and 2d cartoons so well integrated before.) Again, both installed quickly and worked perfectly.

Transitioning

There’s no way, right now, to upgrade an existing license by going to the App Store. For that matter, the iOS App Store has been around for a couple of years now and there’s still no mechanism for version upgrades there, either. (Or free trials.) What the iOS App Store does have is “in App purchases” which, I think, represent a superior model for handling upgrades (since I don’t think you should have to pay for compatibility or bug fixes, just new features). We shall see how existing developers adapt.

Right now, I see several different approaches to the transition:

  • Stick it in the App Store at the same price. Things, Omnigraffle Pro, Fake.app, and a bunch of other well-known programs are simply the same price in the App Store as online (plus or minus a few cents in some cases). I can’t tell what the prices of products I already have installed are (e.g. Coda, BBEdit.) but I assume most are priced identically to the existing online price.
  • Offer free upgrade to next major version. Cheetah 3D is $149.99 on both the App Store and the website, but anyone buying C3D now gets a free upgrade to v6.
  • Reduce Price. Autodesk Sketchbook Pro is $29.99 in the App Store. The Windows version is around $70 from Amazon. Aperture 3 is $79.99 in the App Store (take that, Lightroom and Photoshop Elements). And the iLife Apps are $14.99 individually, while the iWork Apps are $19.99 individually. (Not only is this cheaper than buying them bundled as boxed sets, it may be even better since App Store licenses are probably like Family Packs — but I can’t confirm this.)
  • Reduce Price and Abandon Online Sales. Pixelmator is simply moving to the App Store and it’s reducing its price to $29.99 and promising 2.0 will be a free upgrade — $29.99 is the kind of price you’d have expected the upgrade to 2.0 to cost, so this is a pretty canny way of dealing with the App Store’s limitations.

Some other observations:

  • I own a BBEdit license, and BBEdit is available via the App Store. The App Store detects I have it installed but won’t let me rate or review it since I didn’t buy it through the App Store. I’m guessing it won’t let me update it via the App Store either. (In fact, Barebones just replied to my tweet on the subject informing me that BBEdit’s in-app updater will continue to work as normal, which is exactly what I expected.)
  • I own a Cheetah 3D license but it’s in a subdirectory I’ve named and versioned and the App Store doesn’t detect it.
  • There really needs to be a free trial mechanism for pricier apps and I don’t mean in-app purchases.

Interesting things to look out for

Will we see prominent free/open source projects, such as Firefox, Chrome, Blender, Inkscape, The GIMP, and OpenOffice.org appear in the App Store?

When will we see some interesting market share plays in the App Store? For example might we see a trailing contender in a market (e.g. Lightwave in the 3D market) perform some kind of big gamble and stick their product in the App Store at a dramatically reduced price? Arguably pricing Aperture 3 at $79.99 is an example of such a play, and I can easily imagine Apple putting a lot of its software products into the App Store at very aggressive prices (Final Cut Express/Pro, Logic Express/Pro, and so on spring to mind).

What else will Apple unbundle? Will I be able to buy Motion separately from Final Cut Studio?