Saturday, 16 April 2011

Mac App Store – The Good, The Bad and the Inexcusable

The Good

I really liked the concept of the Mac App Store (MAS) from the day that Steve Jobs announced it. A first port of call to go to when you’re looking for that special bit of software without having to wade through endless Google searches which don’t quite get you to where you want to be.

I liked the idea that everything in the MAS would be available (it's really frustrating to find out about a cool piece of software only to find out that you can't get it anymore) and reasonably current (e.g. still supported), that upgrades would be fairly automatic, and that I’d be able to see what other people thought before I committed to buying.

I don’t think I ever saw it as the only solution. I still keep my subscriptions to MacZot and MacUpdate Promos and look forward to what they have to offer in my inbox every morning. And I still value the reports and reviews in the commercial press and on social networks like Twitter.

The first time I used the store (I think it was to get the free MAS version of TextWrangler) I was really pleased with the automated installation, and I still like the way that the process works for new installations.

The Bad

Having purchased dozens of Apps from the iTunes App Store, I knew that I would have to be a lot more careful in the MAS, with its higher prices. So far, so good – my prudence has paid off, and I’ve not spent a fortune. But it’s still a potential heffalump trap. One button purchases are just that bit too easy.

I was disappointed that it isn’t possible for the MAS to recognize all existing registered software and have it managed like purchased software. Maybe that is on the cards in the future, but I’m not going to hold my breath. And I’m certainly not going to repurchase software just to have it available through the store.

I’m also disappointed that upgrades force you to close the application in all cases I’ve seen so far. In App purchase often do this automatically but all my MAS software refuses to load until I exit the application. Not a big deal, but it does detract from the process and is a small step backwards.

My other major gripe is the pricing policy on certain Apple applications – specifically Aperture. Having just purchased the version 3.0 upgrade from Apple I was horrified to find the full retail version on the MAS at a fraction of the total price I had paid, having been a user from version 1.0. “C’est la guerre”, I guess.

The Inexcusable

Regulars will know that I run a 2008 iMac back at Apple Harvest base camp, and a 2007 MBP while I’m out on the road. Both systems are always up to date in terms of OS versions, and much of the software is common across both machines.

So it came as a big surprise that MAS behaves differently on each system. Everything is fine on the MBP – existing software is recognized, and updates work exactly as expected.

On the iMac nothing is quite as it should be. Whilst the installed software base appears to be correct and when appropriate indicates updates are available, the update pane says that all apps are up to date. Attempting to install an update from the purchased list generates the now infamous message :-

"You have updates available for other accounts
Sign in to (null) to update applications for that account"

After months of using the App Store I have finally resolved the problem more by luck than anything else. It appears that the issue is Spotlight related. I had a sneaking suspicion that this was the case, and this was reaffirmed with a problem I had with the Alfred utility which failed to locate any applications after I had performed a cache reset. Rebuilding the spotlight index failed to help matters, but a search through the Apple technical forums held the key.
Simply entering the terminal command :-

arch -i386 mdimport /Applications

appeared to resolve the problem and MAS now works as expected on the iMac. Other folks have indicated that this fix works for them also. This also fixed my problem with Alfred, and unless I'm mistaken, my Spotlight searches also appear to be more accurate.

Given that this appears to be a very common occurrence according to various blogs and forums, I find it inexcusable that Apple have not posted a fix themselves. Most of the work arounds I have seen involve deleting the apps that need updating and then reinstalling them from scratch. Hardly an efficient mechanism, and one that can also cause additional problems given the fact that deleting software on the Mac doesn't necessarily get rid of everything, and files left knocking around may cause unexpected side effects of their own.


I still think the Mac App Store is a "good thing", but it's going to take some more work from Apple in terms of implementation. There are too many rough edges and bugs to make it 100% reliable, and the facility to update apps already in process is a must. I also really want to see a standardised mechanism for converting existing paid for software into MAS managed apps. Given the number of people already using the MAS it is clearly filling a consumer need, but you should be aware of its limitations and remember that it is very easy to get carried away and end up buying a load of stuff you don't really need, simply because it is so easy to do so!

PS - There will be more info about Alfred in a future post!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Apple Harvest - Normal Service Resumed

Apologies from a Delinquent Blogger

I've only just realised that it's about 9 weeks since I last updated the Apple Harvest. That's the longest period I've ever gone without posting anything, so I apologize for my deliquency, but I hope that a more regular posting pattern will soon resume. Thanks to regular readers for still coming back and looking for stuff - a check on Google Analytics revealed that folks are still using the site. Hopefully the experience will become more rewarding over the next few weeks.

A lot has happened since the February posting, some of which explains my absence. I'm back in Zurich after spending a wonderfully idle few months at home. I've been here for nearly two weeks, and settled in much quicker than before. I'm in a different part of town, different office (same company) and much better digs - nearly four times the size of the last place - and hopefully I'll have a proper broadband connection sometime after Easter. That will make everything a lot easier.

What a Difference A Word Makes

I just did a couple of Google searches - the great news is that a search for the "Apple Harvest blog" returns with this blog at the top of the list. Interestingly, if I omit the word "blog", I couldn't find a reference until page 74. Still, at least it's in the top 100 pages! Sometimes you have to wonder about Google's search algorithms. A reference to the date of the 2006 apple harvest appeared on page 40 something. Perhaps some more regular posts will bump us up the list a bit?

Some Forthcoming Posts

I've got a list of some things you can look forward to over the next few weeks. Here's a preview...
  • Some thoughts on the Mac App Store
  • How my Magic Trackpad is losing out to the Magic Mouse
  • A look at the Joby Ori case and stand for the iPad
  • Why I'm not upgrading to the iPad 2
  • Using a stylus with the iPad and iPhone
  • Proper review of the iHome iA100 iPad dock mentioned in the last post
Hopefully there'll be something in the list to draw you back or to mention to your friends and colleagues, and bring them into the fold.

See you soon!