The Robservatory

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App Store

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…

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The future of some older games on the Mac App Store

As part of this longer post on my purchases from the Mac App Store over the last seven years, one particular bit really struck me: Based on my purchases, at least, there are a a lot of rarely-updated apps—and games in particular—in the Mac App Store.

Of the 116 purchases (or free downloads) I’ve made since the App Store opened, 90 are still available in the App Store today. At first glance, that seems pretty good—78% of what I have is still in the App Store. But it doesn’t look quite so good if I examine when each of those 90 apps was last updated:

Yes, 51 of those 90 apps (57%) have been updated within the last year, and that’s good. But what’s not good is that the remaining 39 apps (43%) haven’t been updated in at least a year—and of those 39 apps, 21 of them (over half!) haven’t been updated in four or more years.

Digging into those 21 apps reveals that four of them are utilities, five are general use apps, and 12 of them are games.

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Configurator covers (some of) iTunes’ lost app features

On the same day that Apple announced the new iPhones and such, they also released iTunes 12.7, which has a number of minor changes, and one very major change (here’s a nice summary). The major change is the removal of pretty much anything related to iOS apps: You can’t sync apps, you can’t browse the store, and you can’t reorder your iOS device’s app icons.

As someone who is Mac-bound for the majority of the day, this is a horrible change, and I absolutely hate it. Apple does provide one workaround, the ability to manually sync data from your computer to your iOS device. But this method isn’t really user friendly, and offers almost nothing in the way of actual app management. Further, it doesn’t let you rearrange your apps, which is one of the most awful tedious tasks one can undertake on an iOS device.

Enter Apple Configurator 2, a free Mac app that Apple says “makes it easy to deploy iPad, iphone, iPod touch, and Apple TV devices in your school or business.” But here’s a secret—shhhhhh!—you don’t have to be a school or business to use Configurator, nor do you have to use it for multiple devices—it works just fine for a single user with a single iOS device. And as an added bonus, it does some things that iTunes 12.6 and earlier never did.

In summary form, using Configurator, I can…

  • Easily view (customizable) device info for multiple devices at once.
  • See a summary screen for any given device, containing lots of useful tidbits about the device.
  • Rearrange icons on any device’s screens.
  • Change the wallpaper on any device.
  • View info on all installed apps, and sort by name or seller or genre, etc.
  • Update installed apps.
  • Install apps from either purchase history or from a folder on my Mac.
  • Install configuration and provisioning profiles (for beta software, etc.).
  • Install documents and assign them to applications.
  • Create backups (open or encrypted) and restore them.
  • A whole bunch more…

The one thing it can’t do—and for which there’s still no alternative I’m aware of—is browse and purchase apps from the iOS App Store. For that, you’ll still need to use your iOS device…or a virtual machine running iTunes 12.6. (Configurator requires a physical connection via USB cable; it won’t work over WiFi. Configurator also grabs any connected devices it sees, so don’t launch it while iTunes is syncing other iOS content, for instance.)

Keep reading for a slightly deeper look at a few of Configurator’s features…

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On the removal of iOS apps from iTunes: I hate it

The recently-released iTunes 12.7 removes access to the iOS app store, as well as management of iOS apps. This is bad on any number of fronts; here are just a few things that bother me about it…

  • Migrating installed apps to a new device will now require you download all of them from the iOS device itself. This will be slow, and if you have capped internet, eat into your bandwidth. In my case, my iPhone holds 248 apps. So I’ll have the joy of waiting for 248 apps to download over the internet? And, heaven forbid, if I have issues as I did with my iPhone 6, I’ll get to do that over and over and over…
  • You can’t organize your apps in iTunes any more, only on your iOS device. If you have a lot of apps, this is perhaps the most painful task to do on an iPhone—dragging icon by icon, across screen after screen. Ugh. iTunes offersoffered a much better method…

    But no longer, because Apple knows better, right?

  • Developers, I think, will hate this change. Why? Because not only can users not browse apps in iTunes, they can’t purchase apps on a Mac or a PC at all! I spend all day at my desk, on my Mac. When I read about an interesting iOS app, I can see its web page, and then jump right into iTunes and buy it. But as Kirk McElhearn notes, this is no longer possible (temporary issue, maybe?). As a developer, losing access to anyone browsing from a non-iOS device would be deeply troubling.

But the above issues are only part of the reason why the removal of iOS apps from iTunes bothers me. An equally concerting issue is this: Browsing and buying apps on an iPhone is an absolutely horrid experience.

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The iOS App Store’s paid apps lottery game

In case you missed it, Apple is promoting “pay once” games in the iTunes App Store:

I think it’s amazing that Apple is highlighting pay-once games; anything that helps focus attention away from the freemium model is great in my eyes. I hope this is a regular feature and kept up to date.

Looking at just the apps I can see on the screen without scrolling, there are about a dozen I think I’d like—for a total cost of around $85 or so. But that’s where I reach the freeze point: Instead of sending Apple my $85 and trying out a bunch of cool games, I do nothing. That’s because if I decide to buy these games, I might as well spend the money on lottery tickets.

You ‘win’ the iOS lottery if you get a great game for your money. You ‘lose’ the iOS lottery when you wind up purchasing a steaming pile of donkey dung of a game. Sorry, you lost this time, but please play again soon!

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