Apple’s app store for the Mac seems to be stuck in neutral, according to a new report from analytics firm AppFigures. Launched over a decade ago in 2011 with a thousand apps, the Mac App Store now contains just over 31,000 applications for Apple’s computers, compared to almost 5 million apps on the iOS App Store.
Worse, the Mac App Store is only adding a few new apps every month.
“If you’re developing for the Mac this might be shocking to you: The Mac App Store sees just 15 new apps every month on average,” says Ariel Michaeli, CEO of AppFigures. “That’s what the App Store, which sees about 1,000 new apps every day, adds in 20 minutes.”
The key difference, of course, is that there are multiple ways of distributing apps for computers, while especially on iOS, there’s really only one designated, approved, and offered method for publishing and getting apps for mobile phones. Apple’s store for desktop apps is available right on every Mac, and offers a simple, built-in way to get new applications. But app developers can also distribute via the open web, where they don’t have to follow Apple’s rules, or pay a commission on sales.
Another reason there are far fewer apps for computers than for phones, however, is that so much functionality now just runs in our web browsers, removing the need for a dedicated app.
This could change, Michaeli suggests, with something Apple has been working on:
“I don’t think Apple has a plan for the Mac App Store, but I still think there is some potential as soon as Apple starts pushing iOS apps on Apple Silicon,” he says. “I could be wrong.”
iPhone and iPad apps can run on MacBooks that use Apple’s own chips, or “Apple Silicon.” Those include the M1 and M2 chips. Apple’s plan here, apparently, is to open up the universe of millions of mobile apps for functionality that operates in the desktop space.
“iPhone and iPad apps on the App Store are automatically available on the Mac App Store on Apple silicon Macs, without any modification to the app,” Apple’s developer site says. “There is no porting process — the same frameworks that your apps use on iPhone and iPad are available and tuned just for Mac, taking advantage of the same shared architecture across all three platforms.”
The mobile apps don’t appear to show up by default in the Mac App Store, but are visible via search:
There is a catch, however.
As Apple says, “These apps can be optimized to work with keyboards, windows, and touch-input gestures,” (emphasis added). Just because they can be optimized to work on computers in addition to the phones they were initially built for does not mean that developers have actually taken the time to do so, however.
And in fact, one game I downloaded for my MacBook Pro required me to use the trackpad to control my spaceship, which did not work nearly as well as the smartphone equivalent — a finger on the screen.
As Michaeli indicated, Apple’s not “pushing” these apps yet, possibly because the user experience is not optimal.
The top app category in the Mac App Store, Michaeli says, is Utilities, with just over 5,000 apps. Utilities include VPN tools for more online privacy, disk space and memory optimizers, and file archiving and extraction tools. The next largest is games, with just under 5,000 games.