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Apple Mac App Store hands-on tour

mac app store
Apple's new Mac App Store has finally arrived! With plenty of well-known Mac apps, desktop versions of favorite iPhone and iPad apps, and even some brand new offerings, it's already looking like every Mac user's dream. We're here to walk you through the Mac App Store and show you how it compares to the iOS App Store or the experience of purchasing OS X apps on the web.

First things first, though: how do you get the Mac App Store app? It's actually incredibly easy. Just run Software Update and install OS X 10.6.6. Don't forget to back up first! When your Mac restarts, the App Store icon will be right at the top of your Dock. Sorry, Leopard users: OS X 10.5 can't run the App Store app, and it's not being offered as a standalone app.

With that out of the way, here's our look at what you can expect from the Mac App Store.
Here's the front page of the App Store. Note the similarities to the iTunes Music Store, including the rotating display of featured apps. Also, note how the standard OS X title bar has been replaced by a chunky icon bar with navigation icons. That's some foreshadowing for OS X 10.7, where apps are expected to move toward a full-screen, iPad-like layout.

mac app store front page
Let's dig deeper and check out an app page. Here's the ever-popular Angry Birds, which is consistently at the top of the bestseller list in the iOS App Store. You'll notice that the Mac version costs $4.99, and that's at a temporary 50% off. That's a good indication of Mac App Store prices all around. You're buying desktop software at desktop prices, so a basic game is going to run you $10 instead of 99 cents, and some professional-grade apps land in the $79-$99 range. Many developers -- including Angry Birds maker Rovio -- are running introductory specials to lessen the sticker shock.

Remember, it was literally just yesterday that we were buying some of these same apps straight from their developers for the same prices -- without the convenience of one-click shopping in the App Store. Despite the fair prices, the swarm of annoying commenters who complain about any iPhone app over 99 cents will surely hit the Mac App Store to gripe about the pricing structure.

The layout of these individual app pages is cribbed straight from the iOS App Store, with two exceptions: the very large screenshot browser in the middle of the page, and the ability to add custom backgrounds to the page. Angry Birds doesn't take advantage of this, but you can see it on the pages of featured apps like Sketchbook Pro.

When you want to buy an app, it's as easy as clicking on the app's price/buy button and signing in with your Apple ID or creating a new one. Existing Apple IDs from iTunes work in the Mac App Store, but they're not prepopulated from iTunes, even if you're signed in, so you'll have type your username in again.

Your newly-downloaded apps will be added to the Applications folder on your hard drive -- with support files installed in their appropriate places -- and they'll also be automatically added to your Dock, so you don't forget about them. The option to disable the automatic Dock icons would be nice for those of us who like to keep our Docks tidy -- I can already imagine my friends who have 20 Dock icons going on buying sprees and adding 20 more -- but alas, the Mac App Store app doesn't have any sort of Preferences menu.
The Mac App Store still has a few other things that need fixing. For example, an App Store link in the browser makes you open the App Store app, without showing you a browser-viewable info page about the app you're clicking on. The iTunes Music Store and iOS App Store both have web-facing app info, so it's likely just a matter of time until it hits the Mac App Store too.

UPDATE: Web previews of App Store apps are now enabled. That was quick!

All in all, the Mac App Store is a slick experience, and it's incredibly nice to shop for apps from hundreds of different developers without having to give your credit card or PayPal info to each one separately, and without having to unzip archives, open DMGs, mess around with installers, and manually drag app icons to the Applications folder.

Tags: app store, apple, apps, AppStore, desktop, mac, mac app store, MacAppStore, os x, os x 10.6.6, OsX, OsX10.6.6