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Warning: Is Apple Setting up an App Store Software Monopoly?

So after finishing a project with iMovie, I went to look one more time at the specifications for Final Cut Express 4. There was only one problem — it seems that Final Cut Express 4 (along with Final Cut Pro 7) has been discontinued and is no longer available.  Regardless of whether or not you like Final Cut Pro X –and how to react to the fact that FCP 7 projects can’t be opened in FCP X, there’s something very interesting about FCP X…

It’s only available at Apple’s App Store.

The App Store for the iPhone

Initially I though that the App Store was a great idea.  I really like the App Store for my iPhone, and I find it easy to update applications for my iPhone all at once.  As a long time PC user, I would never update multiple applications at once without a restart, so the update approach on the iPhone is a welcome change.

The Mac App Store for Desktop Macs

Now looking from the perspective of a desktop machine, I still though the App Store for Mac was a good idea.  Aperture — a pretty darn good photography management/editing program costs around $199 retail. At this price, it was well worth an in-depth comparison to Adobe’s Lightroom3 which retails for $299 but is often available for around the $199 price as well.

Aperture 3 at the App Store

But the minute Apple made Aperture 3 available on the Mac App Store for around $80, the decision became a no-brainer.  We could argue for days about Aperture 3 vs Lightroom 3, but unless there’s a specific feature or interface element that really is a deal-breaker for you, I personally can’t rationalize spending around $120+ more for a very similar program.  So from this perspective, the App store is great.  Not only can I save a lot of money on the App Store as compared to the retail boxed version, but I can get the Aperture 3 download instantly (in fairness Lightroom 3 can be downloaded directly from Adobe.com but there’s no way you’d get a discount there — you’d have to pay the full $299 to download directly from Adobe).  So it’s great the Aperture 3 is only $80 at the App Store – but the App Store is the only place you are going to get the product at that price.

A Problem with the Apple App Store?
As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s great that Aperture is available as a retail boxed product, as well as available  for much less as an electronic download.   This approach, I believe, gives consumers a choice.   You can still download an Aperture 3 trial, and you can still go and look at the box in the Apple Store.

So now after looking at FCP X, and putting aside the apparently legitimate complaints from video professionals, it seems as though FCP X is only available at the App Store.  And while I’ve already sung the praises of the App Store, there are some questions I think that need to be explored:

If Apple is moving toward a model of releasing all of its software exclusively on the App Store, what will that do for competition from other vendors? I like that Aperture 3 is available from a host of other vendors, and before it appears at such a low price at the App Store, I would have made the purchase from Amazon as opposed to Apple.com or from the retail Apple Store.

Is Apple intentionally lowering prices on their software products and making them exclusively available on the App Store in order to  create a monopoly? If Apple’s new model truly is to release to the App Store only — at reasonable prices, what’s to say that once Apple has solidified this model, that they will not raise prices?  As a lifetime PC guy, I find it fantastic that an Apple OS upgrade runs around $30.  The same upgrade for Windows will run between $100-$300 depending on the day, the vendor and the cycle of the moon.  There’s a lot to be said in this case for simplicity, but what happens if Apple suddenly becomes the only vendor of Apple Software?

If Apple has a Monopoly, what happens to Previous Versions? If someone wanted to dig a little they still could find a copy of FCP 7 or of  FCE 4.   Amazon.com still has a few and there are other vendors as well that have stock.  But fast forward a few years — if Apple software is only available on the App Store, and all third-party vendors are eliminated, getting previous versions of software becomes impossible.  And while new versions of software often do a better job at certain things than previous versions, there are times where you want to keep an old version.  For example, I still run Adobe Creative Suite CS3 which as a web developer really serves my purposes.  There’s nothing that new in CS4 or CS5 that for me justifies a $900 upgrade.

Apple has done a great marketing job over the past few years, and has, deservedly so, really increased their market share. I have always thought and continue to believe that competition in the market drives innovation.  But with Apple’s possible shift to selling their software exclusively at the Apple Store, I believe a lot of questions should be raised about how this model will affect how we — in the long run — purchase and maintain our computer software.

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