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Five ways Apple can improve the Mac App Store

When Apple first announced it was launching a Mac App Store, I thought it was a dumb idea. I already knew where to get my apps and didn't need a centralized location to find what I wanted. However, after using the store for more than six months, I've become a Mac App Store aficionado. Now, I rarely buy an app that isn't on the Mac App Store, and I get kind of annoyed when there's an app I want that's not on the Store.

The reason for my change of heart is simple: the Mac App Store has lived up to everything Apple intended. It's easy to find apps, and it's even easier to install and update them. The thing I love most is that I no longer have to keep a backup of all the DMG files of downloaded apps I've bought. If I ever need to re-download an app, I can do it with a click of a button in the Mac App Store. I also used to keep a separate text file on my Mac containing all the registration information I needed to enter once I installed an app. Sometimes this was just a serial number, but other times it was a serial and a user ID, which might have been an old email I hadn't used in years. All that hassle is gone with the Mac App Store. No serials. No IDs. No DMG files to find or re-download.

As much as I've fallen in love with the Mac App Store, it does have room for improvement. Here are five suggestions I hope Apple implements.

1. Grandfather existing owners of Apple-made apps into the Mac App Store.

I've got several Apple-made apps that I bought on disc before Apple unveiled the Mac App Store. These include iLife '11, iWork '09, and Aperture. It would be nice if Apple found a way to automatically add these apps to my Mac App Store account so I could ditch the optical media and have easy access to them on any Mac I own. Allowing grandfathered Apple apps would also eliminate the confusion of updating Apple's apps. Last week some people had to update their iLife '11 apps through Software Update, while others had to update them through the Mac App Store. (In its early months, the Mac App Store actually was smart enough to find disc-installed Apple apps on your Mac and mark them as "Installed," but it appears this feature is no longer working. -Ed)

2. More options for sorting your purchased apps.

The fourth button on the Mac App Store's menu is the "Purchases" button, which lets you see a complete list of all apps you've purchased. It's a great feature that enables you to quickly re-download any app you bought and later deleted from your Mac. However, right now there is no good way to sort through your purchases. You're limited to viewing them in the order you bought them, most recent to oldest. It would be great if Apple could add additional sorting options including alphabetical, price, category, last updated, and more.

3. Screensavers and Widgets

Right now the Mac App Store is limited to full-fledged applications. This means System Preferences add-ons and screensavers are out. I can understand excluding custom System Preferences add-ons, as some third-party prefpanes require low-level access to your Mac -- a potential security risk. However, screensavers don't present similar risks (at least no more than apps do), and the Mac App Store would be an incredible way to discover cool screensavers. A dedicated screensaver category in the Mac App Store would increase screensaver development and let users easily find and separate the good from the bad via reviews. Same goes for Dashboard widgets; I still use them, and it would be nice to browse them all in one place.

4. Tabbed browsing

The Mac App Store could use improved ways of viewing and comparing potential app purchases. Right now, clicking on an app listing takes you to its info page. That's nice, but if you're looking for a specific type of app -- and not a specific app -- it would be nice to be able to open several app info screens in multiple tabs so you can quickly switch between them while comparing features, ratings, and so forth.

5. Video previews

Currently, an app's info page shows up to five images of the app. Many times those images are enough to provide a good look and feel for the app; however, it would be great if Apple allowed developers to upload one small video that could be played right in the info screen. This video, limited to sixty seconds if necessary, could essentially be a trailer for the game you're thinking of buying or a quick walk-thru of an app, narrated by the developer. The videos would add more to the discoverability of what an app is capable of, something that isn't always obvious from still images or text descriptions.

Those are five of my ideas for the Mac App Store. I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments!



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Mac OS X

When Apple first announced it was launching a Mac App Store, I thought it was a dumb idea. I already knew where to get my apps and...