Apple's Mac App Store Could Draw Strong Competition

Apple reported 1 million apps downloaded from its Mac App Store in its first day of release. How will Google and Microsoft respond?

Apple announced Jan. 7 that 1 million apps had been downloaded from the Mac App Store. The question now is: How will its competitors respond?

"We're amazed at the incredible response the Mac App Store is getting," Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrote in a Jan. 7 statement. "Developers have done a great job bringing apps to the store and users are loving how easy and fun the [store] is."

The Mac App Store launched Jan. 6 with more than 1,000 free and paid applications, including the always-popular Angry Birds and more productivity-centric programming, such as Autodesk. By porting its mobile-applications model to the PC, Apple hoped to attract users interested in downloading smaller programs with just one click, as well as third-party developers looking for a new platform for their products. Apple has full control over the software listed in its store via its usual review process, although developers can continue to distribute any Mac-supported software independently of the store.

Mac App Store requires Snow Leopard, specifically Mac OS X v.10.6.6 with a software update, and will be fully integrated into Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, currently in development.

Less than 24 hours after the Mac App Store's launch, though, reports emerged of security loopholes, in particular for applications that declined to follow Apple's recommendations about the app checking for a valid store receipt. Lack of receipt validation could make it easier to pirate applications.

Some early-stage kinks aside, the Mac App Store launch managed to draw its share of attention away from the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, where Apple was a conspicuous non-presence. In the longer-term, though, Apple's rivals may feel duty-bound to respond to the Mac App Store's success with initiatives of their own.

Google already has something underway with the Chrome Web Store, which offers 2,000 apps and 10,000 extensions and themes. Google Docs, Google Reader, Google Maps, Amazon Window Shop and TweetDeck are but a few of the ones that eWEEK's Clint Boulton recently downloaded onto his Google Chrome-based Cr-48 test notebook. Other apps include CityVille, Rhapsody, and news feeds such as USA Today and The New York Times.

As the company with the largest share of the "traditional," or desktop-and-laptop-bound, operating system market, Microsoft is likely mulling the possibilities of response. During CES, Microsoft executives announced that the next version of Windows will support SoC (system-on-a-chip) architecture, in particular ARM-based systems from partners such as Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments. In theory, that would allow Windows to appear on a broader range of smaller and lighter form-factors.

During a Jan. 5 press conference, Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division, and others demonstrated how Windows could run on native ARM architecture with little evident slowdown. "New version of Internet Explorer running ARM, hardware accelerated," Michael Angiulo, a corporate vice president for Microsoft, said as he demonstrated applications on a laptop with an Nvidia Tegra chip. "'Iron Man' trailer in high definition, running natively on an ARM chip."

For months, rumors have circulated that the next version of Windows will include ultra-fast booting, a "Microsoft Store" for downloading apps, and fuller cloud integration-all features more reminiscent of a smartphone or mobile device than of a traditional PC. Those rumors, in conjunction with Microsoft's announced support for ARM chips, hint that a Microsoft app store could be in the works. But given the longer time-frame needed for both the next version of Windows and working out the ARM-associated engineering kinks, such an app store might not appear for years.

In the meantime, the ability to download apps onto a laptop seems to be an Apple and Google game.