Thinking About Touch Screen Macs

I've been thinking more lately about touch screen Macs. There's lots of talk in the community about how Microsoft has added touch screen to Windows and it's now time for Apple to follow suit. Just a few days ago, I was sent a link for the Air Bar, which is a bolt-on sort of thingy that sort of adds a touch screen to a 13 inch MacBook Air. 

I have no inside knowledge but I think you're dreaming if you expect Apple to add a touch screen monitor to the Mac. Microsoft added touch to Windows because they were unable to successfully launch a separate touch interface. Even with that, Windows touch implementation still has a very long way to go before it is as intuitive or easy to use as iOS. Making a single interface that can satisfy both touch and keyboard/mouse users is no easy task and I'm not convinced Microsoft (or even Apple) can pull it off.

Apple will expand upon touch computing through iOS, not the Mac. The hold up right now is that iOS needs more power but that will come along with bigger and better iPads. You won't get your touch screen Mac. Instead, you'll get a gigantic iPad (or whatever Apple ends up calling it). For the Mac, the Touch Bar is probably all we'll ever get in terms of touch. If they do go further with touch on the Mac, however, I'd expect it to be a full touch screen keyboard, not a touch screen monitor.

FBI vs. Apple: Where is this Going?

Several times over the course of my legal career, I’ve either had cause to delay a hearing on motion or had opposing counsel do the same. While nothing I have ever worked on has the sex appeal of the FBI vs. Apple, I can tell you that sometimes the reason for the delay is because one party thinks they’re losing and want some time to either get additional evidence or find some other way out.

With the FBI vs. Apple matter, the stakes are very high in terms of public relations and important but probably not as high in terms of legal precedent. A federal magistrate judge is a pretty important person but also at the bottom of the federal precedent pecking order. I’ve had a lot of people write me asking if they think this delay was the result of reconsideration at the FBI and my answer would be, “quite possibly”.

I don’t talk about it at MacSparky much but I served as a judicial extern for a federal judge a long time ago and spent some time in the trenches. That got me thinking about where this is all heading.

One point I think is generally missed by the tech press is that no matter what happens with the magistrate judge or, for that matter, the next judge on the next case, this issue will not get resolved for some time. An issue this big is going to work its way up through the Court of Appeals. Both Apple and the government know that and I suspect everybody is in it for the long haul.

The tech press also often writes about how a legislative solution will solve this and while on principal that makes sense, practically I’m not so sure. Judges generally prefer that the legislature come up with a specific law for questions before it rather than requiring the court to interpret some 200-year-old law that was never intended for regulating cellular phone encryption. I have my doubts as to whether any law could get passed given the current stalemate in Congress but given the way everyone goes a little crazy whenever the word “terrorist” is used, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they could pass a law. Indeed, such a law is already in motion.

However, thinking forward if Congress were to pass some sort of backdoor legislation and the President were to sign it into law, I expect we would land right back in the courts as Apple and other manufacturers and consumer protection groups, like the EFF, challenge such a law on constitutional grounds. That, in turn, would lead to more trips up the ladder at the courts of appeal and, most likely, the Supreme Court.

The best case scenario at the legislative end would be for a law to be passed restricting access and prohibiting the government from requiring backdoors in cellular phones. Let’s just say I’m not holding my breath for that one. In my opinion if there is going to be a law passed, it’s going to be a law requiring installation of a backdoor and not the opposite.

If that’s not enough to make your head spin, now think about 50 different individual state legislatures and countless foreign nations also taking a crack at requiring back door access to cell phone data.

Ultimately, I believe this question as to whether or not the government can force access into our mobile devices has to be decided by the Supreme Court. Until then, a great cloud will hang over this entire issue and for the next few years I’m guessing we will see lots of ink spilled on this issue. Put simply, even if the FBI backs down on the San Bernardino case, this issue is hardly over for any of us, including Apple.

iPhone Divergence

There are a lot of rumblings lately about divergence of features in the iPhone 7. Some reports say Apple is serious about a smaller phone that will lose some of the features found in the current iPhone 6s line. Other reports, like this one, explain that the iPhone 7 Plus is going to get a dual-lens system that will give it a significantly better camera than the iPhone 7.

The interesting question for me in all of this is whether Apple would be willing to start separating the iPhone line with differing product features. The case against it is pretty obvious. When people go into the Apple Store to buy a new phone, they want it to be a simple decision. There is nothing easier than saying, “They are all the same. Pick your screen size and you’re good.” Not only does this make things easier for consumers, it also eliminates the inevitable frustration that comes from people that want a smaller screen but also the best possible camera. But this, of course, isn’t even true with the current iPhones where the Plus phones have image stabilization features that the standard line does not.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but think that Apple’s preference would be to keep the phones as similar as possible. However, the market brings its own pressures. Android phones are a lot better than they used to be and Apple is quite serious about making the iPhone the best mobile phone on the market. Repeatedly Apple has shown its dedication to the iPhone camera system. So given this pride in the iPhone and the continuing press of competition, would Apple diverge the lines to such an extent to put a dual-lens camera in the iPhone 7 Plus? I think they would.

Not only do I think they would, I also think they should. Artificially holding specific models back because other models can’t support the same features seems silly to me. If you can put a better lens system in one phone, then you should. Consumers will sort it out and I’m sure it will result in some people upgrading to the bigger (and presumably more profitable) phone. When it comes to the iPhone, I don’t think Apple should hold back. If Apple is going to continue to succeed with the iPhone, it needs to continue making the best possible iPhone it can.

Wibbly-Wobbly Apple

There has been a lot of news lately about Apple reversing course with various apps using  extensions and widgets in iOS 8. At WWDC a few months ago Apple (or more precisely the engineering branch of Apple) announced a lot of new toys they'd thrown in iOS 8 to make it easier for developers to extend the experience of their apps to notification center, other applications, and cloud based storage. To me, and a lot of other people, it felt like exactly what iOS needed. 

Then a group of smart developers started building things with these new tools We got Today View widgets that could open apps, calculate a tip, and otherwise increase the functionality of our iThingies. More developers dug in on the cloud accessibility with, perhaps one of the best new apps being Panic's Transmit which gave us the ability to move files between different cloud services at will.

Apple approved these apps, put them up for sale, and, in some cases, even featured them. We paid money for the apps and now a bunch of them are being required to remove the innovative features we bought them for at risk of being pulled from the App Store.

So how did Apple get so bi-polar on extensibility in iOS? I'd argue they've always had warring factions over this issue but the battles have always been behind closed doors in Cupertino. Now it's public. Now we actually see some really great functionality only to have the carpet yanked from under us. If Microsoft or Google were changing its mind publicly like this, all of us Apple geeks would be giggling about it.

There is no doubt in my mind who should win. I think the extensions mentioned above only make iOS better. They are all in applications that users must download and extensions that users must enable. I can't see how the "this will confuse users" argument holds any weight since these all require action by the user to enable. If I found myself sitting at Tim Cook's desk, I'd say let them through. I'm sure developers are taking the iOS 8 tools to places the iOS development team didn't anticipate. However, I think this is something to celebrate, not restrict.

There is a separate, equally troubling question arising from all of this. How is this all happening in public? Regardless of whether or not Apple agrees with me about what developers can and can't do, somebody needs to decide, predictable standards should be identified, and we should move on. Let's hope the days of wibbly-wobbly changes like this are nearly over.

Multiple Variables

One of the great things about last year’s iPad release was the device parity Apple brought to both devices. They both had retina screens. They both and the same camera. They both had the same processor. They both had the same memory. All of this resulted in much easier consumer decisions when choosing between them. Do you want the big screen or the little one?

If the rumor sites are to be believed, this won’t be the case with the two different sized iPhones we are expected to see next week. Not only will screen size be different but we may also have differences in camera quality. I would speculate that differences in display quality, battery life, and storage could also easily be in play. Assuming that the bigger phone does get some of the better components, what do the people who want a smaller screen with the better components do? They have to make tough choices. I suspect much digital ink will be sacrificed in relation to this question in the coming weeks.

Broadwell and ARM Macs

wrote last month about Broadwell’s delays and the expected impact on the release of new Macs. It appears that is coming true. The recently updated MacBook Pros just received slightly bumped Haswell chips and, as Macworld reports, the speed improvements are small.

Moreover, I’m more convinced than ever that the rumored 12" MacBook Air with retina screen, assuming it exists, will get pushed back until next year when Apple can get the Broadwell chips it needs to put a retina screen in a small MacBook. If Apple were to release a Haswell-based MacBook Air with retina screen, I’d recommend waiting.

There is also more buzz about the idea of an ARM-based Mac. The ARM chips that currently power iOS devices are Apple designed and Apple controlled. If Apple could put those in Macs, they wouldn’t be dependent on Intel for future Mac releases and wouldn’t get saddled with the problems they have with the current Broadwell delays.

The problem is that ARM chips aren’t nearly as powerful as these Intel chips and it would incur a substantial performance hit. Another downside of ARM Macs would be that they don’t run Windows nearly as easily as Intel based Macs do. (However, I have to wonder how important that is as we increasingly move to web-based services and Windows becomes less relevant.)

On the plus side, ARM based Macs would have ridiculously great battery life. When you think about it, a thin, light Mac that sucks at Final Cut but runs Safari and Mail for 24 hours on a single charge may have a pretty large audience. If Apple were to go this route, I suspect that initially they would keep producing high-end Intel Macs for people that need the power.

Yesterday, Jean-Louis Gassée (who knows more about this stuff in his pinky finger than I do in my entire body) wrote that he believes an ARM based Mac may very well lie in the not so distant future. One of the points he made that hadn’t occurred to me is that since Apple is designing the chips, they could create a separate ARM design for the Mac that is a bit more powerful and uses a bit more power. Pound-for-pound though, I suspect Apple would have a hard time matching Intel on the power end, especially now that the Broadwell chip is on a 14nm dye.

Could something like this be already in the works at Apple? To answer that question I’d state that just a few months ago Apple announced an entirely new programming language for the Mac and iOS that they’d been internally developing for years and nobody on the outside had a clue of its existence.

In Defense of Tim

Dan Frommer has a nice piece up about Tim Cook.

"In many ways, Cook is running Apple better than Jobs ever did."

I think anyone following Steve Jobs has the deck stacked against him. Nevertheless, looking at all the news from WWDC, I also think Tim Cook is the right guy to follow Steve Jobs. If you think Tim is under heat now, just wait until Apple actually releases a watch or fitness band. That market is much smaller than the iPhone market. Even a product pitched by Steve Jobs with his reality distortion field turned up to full power is not going to touch iPhone numbers. When this inevitably happens, all the long knives will come out for Tim in the tech press.

Efficiency vs. Delight

I've been thinking a lot lately about the role of delight in application design and how it relates to (and sometimes trumps) efficiency. I wrote a small piece about this and Macworld published it today.

The Next Thing and Low Hanging Fruit

I read this Wall Street Journal article where Tim Cook explained that Apple is approaching releasing a product in a new category. There is one line in the story that explains “Cook knows that’s the biggest question hanging over the company: whether it can repeat the innovative success with a new product category – as it did with the iPhone in 2007 and iPad in 2010.” Somehow it’s become a thing that if Apple can’t release something equivalent to the iPhone and iPad, it’s doomed. Oddly (or perhaps sanely), nobody says that about any other company.

I’m sure Apple does have some new product categories up its sleeve but I also seriously doubt any of them will be as successful as the iPhone. Everybody needs a phone. Not everyone needs a watch, fitness tracker, or iJockstrap. The iPhone represents an expensive and frequently replaced bit of technology that we all need to get around. There isn’t anything else like that. Nevertheless, Apple will start expanding into these lesser categories and people will look at the numbers and say, “See … Apple is doomed without Steve.”

It seems to me that with phones and tablets, Apple has already taken the low hanging fruit. I don’t think there is another category of personal electronics at this stage of the game that everyone will want or need. I’m sure Apple’s new products will be great and will enhance the overall experience but I’d be shocked if they were iPhone/iPad levels of success. I don’t think it matters whether Tim Cook or Steve Jobs were in charge, I just don’t think such a product category exists right now.

The Problems You Don't Know

I’ve been running pretty hard the last few months between the day job and finishing up the Email Field Guide. In the process, I’ve fallen off the wagon a few times with my OmniFocus task management discipline. Everybody probably knows that feeling of seeing the red badge of “Overdue” show up on the icon and know that it has been several days since you opened up the application and sorted through things. You know there is ticking bomb under your kitchen table and part of you would rather pretend it’s not there and keep eating Cheeze-Its.

I’m here to tell you to put down the box of delicious cheese-flavored crackers and instead cut the red wire. If you are using some of the tricks I showed in my OmniFocus Screencasts, it will not take that long to quickly get through your task list. Even if that means pushing 95% of your tasks off until next Monday, that 5% left is manageable and just think how much more time and money it will cost to rebuild your kitchen if you let that bomb go off.

Here is how I did it under fire the last few weeks.

Screenshot 2013-11-21 14.02.13.png

1. Enable A Clear Perspective

I have a special perspective to help me sweep the decks. It removes all project distinctions and instead just gives me a long list of all active tasks. This makes it really easy to grab big fat chunks of them using the shift or command keys while selecting.

Screenshot 2013-11-21 14.02.28.png

2. Use the Inspector to Process Multiple Tasks

On the Mac version of OmniFocus, open up the inspector and move the start date to some safe date in the future for large swathes of your selected task backlog. Set a record for how many you move with one selection.

3. Defuse the Bombs

There will be a few important things left. Deal with those and get back to the big project that put you behind in the first place. Remember, this too shall pass.

The thing is there are the problems you know and the problems you don’t know. It is the ones you don’t know that will get you every damn time.

Trucks and Cars

In 2010, Steve Jobs made the analogy between PCs and mobile devices with the original trucks and cars. He explained that when we were an agrarian nation and automobiles were new, everybody wanted a truck. Automobiles were expensive things and you only bought one if you needed it to do heavy work. That, however, was temporary. Eventually, people began buying cars and before you knew it most people bought cars.

As the analogy goes, the desktop PCs are the trucks and the emerging classes of tablets and pocket computing devices, such as iPhones, are the cars. When he made the analogy, it made a lot of sense to me but I felt like it was still something pretty distant into the future. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Looking at my new iPhone, it has a 64 bit processor and is more powerful than anything I could’ve imagined just a few years ago. Moreover, software developers are getting smarter about ways to implement these touch devices in a way that’s quick, efficient, and just better than a traditional PC. (Don’t believe me? Check out Editorial.) I don’t think the desktop Mac is going away but I do feel the swing as more people decide their phones and tablets are “enough”.

This was brought home for me today with some reporting by Horac Dediu. Including iOS and Android devices with traditional computers, in Q3 2008, there were 92 million units shipped, 90% of which were running Windows. Jumping to Q3 2013, using the same devices, there were 269 million units shipped of which Windows was 32%. There were more traditional computer shipped in 2008 than in 2013. You don’t even need fancy statistics to verify this. Just look around you, and you’ll find several people that get by just fine with a mobile device alone.

I’m not saying that laptops and desktop computers are going to go away entirely. There’s a big group of people that are always going to want that kind of power, including me. However, the shift from trucks to cars is in full swing and as the mobile devices get even better hardware and smarter software, this is going to become even more obvious.

Scummy App Copycats

I cannot understate how repulsive I find the actions reported in this Ars Technica article. An App Developer made a successful photo app called "A Beautiful Mess". The app was successful and then a group of copycats began submitting confusingly similar apps with names like "A Beautiful Mess Free" and "A Beautiful Mess +". In some instances, the copycats used identical icons and screenshots. The article opines how some developers will even grab the code from the original app and reverse engineer it. How does Apple not see what is going on here? If I submitted an app called "Logic Pro X Free" do you think it would get approved?  When someone so blatantly rips off another developer, Apple shouldn't only reject the app, they should also ban the developer. There simply is no excuse.

The tragedy is that with the approval process Apple has the ability to stop this practice in its tracks. Indeed, Apple is the only app store that can do this since it is the only one requiring approval.  As a community we need to put as much light on this as possible so, in addition to looking for malicious code, Apple also starts looking for (and banning) scummy developers. 


Apple's Enemies

I'm 100% on board with Brent Simmons' post at Macworld yesterday.

"Instead, Apple’s enemy is Apple itself. It must attract and retain talent. It needs to get strong where it’s weak—particularly with syncing and online services.

It needs to retain that awesome balance between cautious incremental updates and the occasional, mind-blowing new.

It’s not easy. But nobody does it better than Apple."

I tried to make a similar point in my Macworld article about the culture of fear in the Apple community. We are not going back to a world where one platform gets 96% of the market share. We no longer need to be worried about our beloved fruit company shuttering its doors. It is now up to Apple to continue to deliver.

The RSS Apocalypse

Aldo Coresi explains:

"The truth is this: Google destroyed the RSS feed reader ecosystem with a subsidized product, stifling its competitors and killing innovation. It then neglected Google Reader itself for years, after it had effectively become the only player. Today it does further damage by buggering up the already beleaguered links between publishers and readers. It would have been better for the Internet if Reader had never been at all."

I spent most of today in meetings. As a result, I didn't have time to fiddle in Twitter or check in on the web. It was the kind of day where I knew I could catch up on the day's news the way I do most busy days, through RSS. So you can imagine my suprise as I drove home today chatting with Katie Floyd on the phone and she tells me Google is uplugging Reader.

I remember back when RSS was amazing and something you paid for. I also remember when Google Reader showed up and very quickly started taking over. It was free. It was Google (back before we were all scared of Google) and it wrecked the market for all of the paid RSS services. We all wondered how Google monetized its Reader expense but we wonder that about most Google services so we all cancelled our paid services and leapt.

Now Google is yanking the cord. Since Reader is the Google service I use the most, that made me a bit sad but I didn't see it as the end of the world. I'm sure some enterprising folks have already filled the whiteboard and are spitballing ideas for the next great RSS reader service. Within a month competitors will be on the market and I'll switch. It will probably cost a few bucks but they won't be collecting data on me or selling to advertisers. (At least not the RSS service I evenutally choose won't.) In other words, with Google exiting, the free market will take over. So my initial reaction was, "meh" and even a bit of enthusiasm that with paid RSS, people may start innovating again.

Then I got home and my wife was really upset about it. My wife is a bit of a nerd too but she travels in circles of electronically connected paper-crafters and they are absolutely up in arms about this. To them, Google Reader is RSS. They don't know of alternative services and as far as they know, new services will never again exist. They think RSS is going to die on July 1 and that's that. Now some of them will figure out they can go elsewhere but some won't. Those people will stop reading blogs via RSS and those blogs will lose readers.

That got me thinking. I've spent years building up MacSparky.com. There are thousands of RSS subscribers. How many will bother to sort out a new RSS system and subscribe again? The closing of Google Reader is going to result in the great RSS purge of 2013. Then Brett Terpstra tweeted this article by Aldo Cortesi which sums it all up in the above cited paragraph better than I ever could. This whole mess is just another example of why free is so often bad.


I've been thinking about all the hullabaloo over the price of the new iPad mini. Everybody feels that Apple blew it by not getting the price down to something competitive with Google and Amazon. Upon reflection, this really doesn't surprise me. Both Google and Amazon have stated that they are selling their small plastic-based tablet products essentially at cost in order to get market share. They have a problem. Apple is beating their pants off in the tablet market and they need a toehold. Apple enthusiasts are eager for Apple to stifle the competition by making a superior iPad mini at roughly the same price. As they see it, Apple has its boot on Google and Amazon's neck and needs only to push to own all aspects of the tablet market for the foreseeable future.

Apple however does not play that game. Apple likes to make money. I can't really fault it for that. The iPad mini starts at $329. the Google Nexus device starts at $199. That Google device only has 8 GB of storage whereas the iPad mini has 16 GB. To get a Google Nexus tablet at 16 GB, you need to spend $250, $79 less than the iPad mini.

So a fair comparison is the $250 Google Nexus device versus the $329 iPad. What does that extra $79 get you? For starters, the iPad mini is better designed and built. I'll take aluminum over plastic any day of the week. Additionally, the iPad mini is an iPad in all senses of the word. It runs, natively, all of the excellent iPad software. The Android tablet software is not there yet. (That thing I wrote about Android apps nearly a year ago still stands.)

When I was on the Mac Roundtable this week, I made the comment that this device isn't necessarily aimed at us nerds. We all love our large-screen iPads with retina displays and a lot of us don't see a good reason to go to the smaller device. That's okay. Apple already has our money. I suspect that the market for the iPad mini is probably less nerd-inclined than that of the larger iPad. The iPad mini is aimed at people who want a quality smaller tablet device. Apple thinks there are a lot of people willing to shell out an extra few bucks for such a device and I suspect they are correct. All of this said, I agree that if they were able to hit $299 instead of $329, a lot more people would have gotten past the price barrier but Apple is a very successful company and I'm sure people much smarter than I already did that math and the iPad mini will do just fine at $329.

The real interesting part of all of this discussion is the collective concern of Apple enthusiasts over Apple blowing it. All of us remember the times when Apple was nearly on the chopping block and there's this sort of cultural fear that somehow our beloved company is to stop making our beloved products. As a result, we all wring our hands and rend our garments in fear every time Apple makes a big move. Moreover, when we see any other company being remotely successful in the same space as Apple, a small part of our brains think it is Microsoft Windows all over again. The good news, my brothers and sisters, is that those days are over. There is not going to be a single winner like there was for the Mac vs. Windows days this time. (Not even Apple.) Apple gets that and is more than happy to let others fight over the low margin end of the market and gobble up the high-end of the market where Apple can actually make a profit and, therefore, keep the lights on.

Jason Snell said it best in this week's Macworld podcast, "Is there a cheap tablet market or is there a small tablet market?" I think the latter and so does Apple. I'll also go out on a limb and say that, with the iPad mini's sales starting tonight at midnight, they'll be sold out before I wake tomorrow.

About this Apple Publishing Lawsuit ▻

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY)wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal about the US Department of Justice's lawsuit against Apple over book-selling practices. I'm sure there must be some explanation for this lawsuit but it eludes me.

As I understand things:

  1. Amazon had a chokehold on digital distribution and was gleefully ramming it down the publishers' throats.

  2. Apple, and others, entered the market and gave publishers more control over how they sold their books.

If anything, it seems that Amazon is the one being anti-competitive. It looks like Senator Schumer agrees with me.

Degrees of "Free"

In this week’s episode of Build & Analyze, Marco Arment explains the challenges of competing with free. At some point over the last few years I’ve migrated away from free services for anything I consider essential. I’d like to say this was calculated but this shift took place at a subconsious level. This shift has two reasons:

  1. No Monetization = Temporary
    I don’t want to waste my time in something temporary. I’ve been burned too many times over the years investing my time and effort learning a free service or app that disappears with little or no warning. If something is good, I want it to stick around and I understand that requires money.

  2. Free is Not Free
    While some apps are free downloads, they are rarely “free”. I end up paying with intrusive ads or information about myself. I’d much rather pay a few dollars to begin with. In my book, that is much cheaper.

Applying this to Instapaper, not only did I pay for the app on my iPhone and iPad, I also am a subscriber and pay $1 per month for this ridiculously useful service that I use every day.

Sandboxing and the Mac App Store

As I met with developer friends at Macworld this year, a common discussion point was Apple’s forthcoming implementation of sandboxing on the Mac. As part of the continuing effort to keep the Mac secure, Apple is preparing to require that all apps sold through the Mac App Store comply with Apple’s sandboxing rules. Sandboxing in Mac OS X is the process of requiring apps to obtain permission for access to different parts of your Mac’s memory and file system. For instance, if you are create a text editor app, you shouldn’t need access to the Mac’s Address Book database. Indeed, making an app that seems harmless but then grabs and uploads personal information and data is exactly the kind of behavior Apple seeks to prevent. In essence, sandboxing partitions the different areas of your Mac only giving software developers access to those particular assets their apps reasonably require. A photo editing app, for instance, will not get access to your admin files. A calculator will not get access to your documents folder. I’m simplifying, but you get the point.

As such, Apple is adding sandboxing to Mac OS X. Sandboxing makes a lot of sense. It worked out really well for iOS and now Apple wants the same level of security on the Mac. However, there still are a lot of questions. For instance, what about apps that necessarily need to work across your Mac? Macro applications and text expansion tools work within several apps and, by their very nature, need access throughout your system in order to serve you. Likewise, some of our favorite productivity apps use small menu bar apps to provide an ever-present gateway into their functionality. Another example are FTP clients that allow you to upload files from anywhere in your computer. All of these applications are incredibly useful. Unfortunately, it also appears that all of these applications would violate of Apple’s looming sandboxing rules.

Nothing is in stone yet. The policy hasn’t been made final or implemented. However, the writing is on the wall and longtime Mac app developers are concerned. Is Apple’s efforts to implement sandboxing going to kill their apps? Nobody knows: everyone is worried.

At some point, Apple is going to throw the switch and start vetting all apps submitted for sale in the Mac App Store. Apps that don’t meet the sandboxing standards, it appears, will not be sold through the Mac App Store. This is a serious problem for app developers as users become more and more accustomed to buying their applications exclusively through the Mac App Store. (I buy nearly all of my apps there.) Moreover, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that one day the only way you can buy an app will be through the Mac App Store.

Sandboxing was originally set to begin in November, 2011. As both Apple and developers struggled to understand exactly what this meant, the deadline was pushed back further. Frankly, having talked to several developers, it seems like there is still a lot of confusion over sandboxing and, in my opinion, this should get pushed back to the next major Mac OS X release, 10.8.

While I have no objection to the idea of sandboxing on the Mac, I hope that Apple doesn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. From the outside, it appears that the Apple steamroller is gassing up and a lot of our favorite apps are sitting in its path. I believe there is a middle path here. Sandboxing can work if Apple is willing to consider being reasonable with apps that necessarily require broad access to your Mac, particularly from established developers. Maybe the reason this keeps getting delayed is because Apple is internally figuring out how to make that happen. Regardless, I can report that many developers are agitated about the possibility of sandboxing rolling them over in the future. I can only hope Apple will use enough foresight to keep that from happening. It would be a shame if we lost some of our favorite apps in this effort to make the platform more secure.

So as users what does all of this mean for us right now? It is hard to say. We could be looking at a serious threat to some of our favorite software or we could be tilting at windmills. Hopefully it is the latter not the former. In the meantime, as a software purchaser, this causes me to pause with respect to purchasing applications in the Mac App Store. While generally I’m a big fan of the Mac App Store, when it comes to apps that could potentially tread on the sandboxing rules, I’m hesitant. My concern is that they will eventually be banned from the Mac App Store, and any licenses I purchased there will no longer be available to me. As a result, if it’s an app that may run afoul of these new rules, buy it from the developer directly for now. Maybe in six months this will work out and not be a problem, but why take the risk?