Apple's Mac App Store Review Guidelines posted -- will Photoshop make it in?

No surprise that Apple's new Mac App Store has a similar set of rules and regulations as the iPhone App Store, and we just got the full list. There's nothing here that's too different from the iPhone review guidelines, but it all seems terribly odd when applied to a regular computer, and some of the more restrictive policies have already drawn ire from developers like Mozilla's Director of Firefox Mike Beltzner, who says the restriction against beta code won't work well with the Mozilla "open beta" development process. That's definitely a valid criticism, especially if the Mac App Store becomes the dominant way for Mac users to get apps, but there's a crucial difference here: unlike the iPhone, Macs can run software from any source, not just the App Store. That means apps that don't meet Apple's Store guidelines can still be freely used by any Mac user without going through jailbreak hoops, and we think that's an ideal compromise: it allows Apple to control much of the Mac experience, since developers will have a huge incentive to comply with the review guidelines and get into the store, but still allows other types of apps and utilities to flourish -- including, say Firefox betas. (We might have written an editorial arguing for exactly this approach on the iPhone in the past, come to think about it.)

So with that said, let's examine Apple's Mac App Store Review Guidelines, which were just posted yesterday -- you can grab the PDF here and read the whole thing, but we're just going to break out the parts that seem more interesting or different than what we've seen in the past. Our biggest takeaway? Interpreted on their face, some of these rules would mean major Mac apps like Adobe Creative Suite 5 and Microsoft Office won't be in the Mac App Store, and that's obviously a problem. Read on to see what we mean.

Unlike Apple's iOS App Store Review Guidelines, there's no pointed introduction here -- just some polite boiler about helping devs reach Mac customers better. Then it's onto the rules, a few of which seem particularly interesting in the context of desktop computing:

  • 2.1 Apps that crash will be rejected and 2.2 Apps that exhibit bugs will be rejected. Well, here we go: the immediate question here is whether infamously glitchy apps like Photoshop and Word will be rejected for being too buggy. We'd sort of love to see that, actually. And what of Apple's own apps that crash all too frequently? Safari and Garageband, we're looking at you.

  • 2.6 Apps that are "beta", "demo", "trial", or "test" versions will be rejected. This is the rule that has many up in arms, but we don't think it's so bad -- general end users probably shouldn't be running beta code, and more advanced users can just hit the web and grab the betas they want anyway.

  • 2.14 Apps must be packaged and submitted using Apple's packaging technologies included in Xcode - no third party installers allowed. Again, we're thinking about Adobe's apps here -- they use weird custom installers that no one's ever loved. Will this be the push that makes them go native?

  • 2.19 Apps that require license keys or implement their own copy protection will be rejected. Lots of questions around this one, as even Apple's own Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro currently require serial numbers to install. Will Apple wrap Mac apps from the Store in FairPlay DRM? If not, what kind of officially-sanctioned copy protection will be available? Apple said Mac App Store apps will be licensed to run on all of a user's personal machines -- does that mean apps will be tied to an Apple ID? How will that work for families with different computers -- will apps be shareable through Home Sharing like iOS apps? There's a lot to sort out here -- we'll have to see what's what when the Store actually launches, though.

  • 2.20 Apps that present a license screen at launch will be rejected. We actually laughed when we saw this one. Why? Because of all the apps on our Mac, there's one that pops up a license screen the most consistently. Sucks for you, iTunes.

  • 2.21 Apps may not use update mechanisms outside of the App Store. Not the worst thing in the world, since the App Store provides a centralized update service, but there are lot of Sparkle-based apps out there that'll need to be tweaked.

  • 2.24 Apps that use deprecated or optionally installed technologies (e.g., Java, Rosetta) will be rejected. This is an interesting one -- Apple actually updated Java for Mac OS X last night, but said it's now deprecated and won't be updated beyond this version's lifecycle. That pretty much spells the end for Java on OS X, unless Oracle steps in and provides a port.

  • 6.2 Apps that look similar to Apple Products or apps bundled on the Mac, including the Finder, iChat, iTunes, and Dashboard, will be rejected. This one's quite odd, as there are lots and lots of Mac apps that look like Apple's own apps -- DoubleTwist looks like iTunes, for example, and almost every FTP app looks like the Finder in some way. And what about an app like Delicious Library, which actually inspired Apple apps like iBooks and iPhoto 11's new books interface? This one's going to be hard to enforce in a reasonable way.

  • 6.3 Apps that do not use system provided items, such as buttons and icons, correctly and as described in the Apple Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines will be rejected. Again, we're looking at the Adobe Creative Suite here -- this one would be grounds for instant rejection.

  • 7.4 Apps containing "rental" content or services that expire after a limited time will be rejected. Well, it's not like we were expecting any iTunes competitors to be welcomed into the Mac App Store anyway.

  • 7.6 In general, the more expensive your app, the more thoroughly we will review it. Seriously, we can't wait to see what happens when Adobe and Microsoft submit their application suites to this store.

  • 9.2 Apps that rapidly drain a products battery or generate excessive heat will be rejected. Games? Video rendering apps? We'll see how this one's interpreted.

  • 11.1 Apps portraying realistic images of people or animals being killed or maimed, shot, stabbed, tortured or injured will be rejected and 11.3 "Enemies" within the context of a game cannot solely target a specific race, culture, a real government or corporation, or any other real entity are perfectly reasonable, sure, but on their face they pretty much rule out any violent video games or historical war games. Good thing there's Steam!

  • 11.5 Apps that include games of Russian roulette will be rejected. We don't know why Apple so deeply fears Russian roulette, but it's banned on the iPhone, it's banned from the Mac App Store, and it's still really funny.

Those are the rules that jumped out at us -- the rest are almost all the same as the iOS App Store rules, and at this point we'd guess most Apple-centric developers will be quite familiar with them. Like the iOS Review Guidelines, the Mac App Store rules also end with an uplifting paragraph about delighting users:

Thank you for developing for Mac OS X. Even though this document is a formidable list of what not to do, please also keep in mind the much shorter list of what you must do. Above all else, join us in trying to surprise and delight users. Show them their world in innovative ways, and let them interact with it like never before. In our experience, users really respond to polish, both in functionality and user interface. Go the extra mile. Give them more than they expect. And take them places where they have never been before. We are ready to help.

All told, it's nothing you wouldn't expect, and we don't think it's so bad for Apple to maintain a curated app store with a managed update system as long as users are still free to get apps from other sources -- and if it pushes companies like Adobe to start using standard installers and interface widgets, well, we're all for it. We'll see what happens -- it's going to be pretty weird if Apple launches a Mac App Store without Photoshop and Office in it.

P.S.- We actually got a chance to talk to Steve Jobs at the event yesterday and asked him if the iPhone would eventually allow apps to be sideloaded from other sources in addition to being installed from the App Store, as is the situation with the Mac App Store. His answer? "Not at this time." Whether or not that means it'll happen at some time is depends on how much of an optimist you are, but hey -- at least it wasn't a flat no.