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A look at seven years of my Mac App Store activity

The other day while browsing the Mac App Store, I clicked on an app’s web site link, only to be greeted with this lovely “Can’t Find the Server” error message in Safari…

That got me wondering about just how often that happens—how many apps are out there that are still in the store, yet their developers have closed down their work and moved on to other projects? I thought it might be interesting to look at my App Store purchases and see just how many of them had broken web site links in their App Store entries.

Then I thought that as long as I was looking at each of my purchases, I might as well collect some additional data. So I put together a simple FileMaker Pro database with a few fields for each app…

During my spare time over a few days and nights, I went through every entry in my App Store Purchased list (after unhiding some apps that I’d hidden). I installed them (if they weren’t already installed), tried to run them, and completed the above data card for each app.

I then tried to answer some questions about my App Store purchases over the years…

  • How many apps have I purchased? [116]
  • How many do I still use? [35]
  • What types of apps do I purchase? [A variety; lots of games]
  • How many appear to have no-longer-there developers? [5]
  • How many of the apps are still in the App Store? [90]
  • How recently have those apps been updated? [Check the chart]

If you want more detail than the [bracketed tl;dr notes] provide, keep reading…

How many apps have I purchased?

I’ve bought or downloaded 116 apps in seven years, but that includes five various macOS releases, leaving 111 non-macOS app purchases. (I’ve also bought nine of our own Many Tricks apps, because that used to be the only way to leave feedback as a reply to a review. Those apps are not included in this analysis at all.)

I thought my 116 purchases would show a decline over time—more bought earlier in the store’s history. But that’s not what the data showed…

I’m no statistician, but if there’s a trend in there, I sure don’t see it. (And no, I have no idea what I was doing in 2016 such that I only bought five apps.)

How many do I still use?

Out of the 111 (macOS adjusted) apps I have bought or installed, I currently have 35 (32%) installed. This was somewhat lower than what I expected to find, though I tend to delete games once I’ve played them (and then install them again later if I want another go round). Basically, two thirds of what I thought I needed…I apparently didn’t really need.

What types of apps do I purchase?

To answer this question, I somewhat arbitrarily assigned a category to each app I’ve purchased. I didn’t use the App Store’s categories, because I often find I disagree with how the developer chooses to categorize their app. I wound up with seven categories, one of which was reserved for the macOS “apps.” Here’s my distribution of purchases:

Yes, the “General” category is big and could be further split apart, but it’s not worth the effort. The second most popular category is actually a tie between the Game and Utility categories; after that, a bunch of video and image tools, then some productivity apps.

Whenever possible, I purchase direct from companies, so my App Store purchases are generally those apps that have no direct version. I was surprised to see the utility number as high as it is, though not surprised at all at the game number, as there are many games that are App Store only.

Not a lot of knowledge to be gleaned from my buying habits, but it was interesting to see the mix.

How many appear to have no-longer-there developers?

I was somewhat surprised to find that only five apps—of the apps still available in the App Store—fall into this category. Even more encouraging is that all five apps are free, so nobody would be throwing money into an unsupported black hole if they chose to install one of them.

Note that I did not include apps that are no longer in the App Store (see next section), because that’s not really a concern to me. If a developer decides to shut down, and removes their app from the App Store, then that’s fine.

it’s the developers who vanish but leave their apps in the store that concern me, and it was good to see that there were only five such apps in my collection.

How many of the apps are still in the App Store?

I was really curious about this measurement, as it might give a sense of the “abandonment level” of the Mac App Store.

Unadjusted, 90 of the 116 apps on my list are still available, which is a 77.5% retention rate.

But that’s not really a fair measure, as it includes the five macOS releases that Apple has removed from the store—I was mainly interested in apps that went away because they just went away, not because Apple released a newer macOS version. Removing the macOS releases drops the baseline to 111.

Next, there were four apps (again, excluding the macOS releases) that were replaced by newer versions that are still in the App Store. For example, BusyCal 2 is no longer in the App Store, as BusyCal 3 took its place. Now the denominator is 107.

Based on these adjustments, the final retention ration is 90 of 107 apps, or 84%. This figure was higher than I expected; I thought there’d be more of the apps I downloaded that had since vanished from the store since its 2011 launch.

How recently have those apps been updated?

Finally, I looked at those 90 apps I have that are still in the App Store and took at look at how recently they had been updated. Here’s what I discovered…

It’s encouraging that 57% have been updated in the last year, but a bit scary that 43% haven’t been updated in over a year—and over half of that group haven’t been updated in over four years!

For more on these older non-updated apps—many of which are games—please read my post on the future of some older games in the Mac App Store.

Only one problem child

I was fairly impressed that everything I tried worked—even those apps that haven’t been updated since the store went online ran in High Sierra. (Some, however, required online components that failed. Or the app couldn’t login to its host, i.e. the eBay app. Or the app couldn’t access Twitter, etc. But they all launched.)

There was one app, though, that I could not get to run in any manner: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City just wouldn’t run. It would install, but launching only got me the following dialog…

So while this app is included in all the statistics, I could not get it to run. But that was the only one that outright failed.

Wrapping it all up

I went into this exercise expecting to find many more issues, especially amongst my older apps—whether due to app breakage, developers vanishing, or the app being removed from the store I couldn’t say, but I was expecting much more trouble than I experienced.

The 32-bit problem in games—as discussed in my other post—is one that may catch a lot of people off guard: These apps may vanish in June, may not run well in October, and/or may not ever be updated to 64-bit.

Beyond the games, the stagnation in the other apps is concerning. Is this a sign of developers abandoning the App Store? Is it due to the sandboxing requirements? Can they not be built as 64-bit apps? Too much effort to match Apple’s ever-changing visual standards? Who knows…but having that many apps in the store without an update in years doesn’t look good for Apple.

Finally, my 31% “app still in use” percentage indicates that I should be a lot more careful about clicking the Buy or Download button—I’ve accumulated a large pile of apps that I rarely use!

2 Comments

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  1. I’m glad that your experience of things working has been better than mine. I am an editor and writer, and the apps I’ve bought for various aspects of my work have been exceedingly poor. And as I browse the store in my categories, I find many comments that apps don’t do what they claim. It’s become so bad that I now personally think of it as the CRAP store.

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