Mac App Store hands-on

You may have heard that admist the craziness of CES, Apple decided to launch its Mac App Store on this fine January morning. We've gone ahead and updated our machines to 10.6.6, so we're officially App Store ready. Read on past the break for a walkthrough of the basics, as well as a smattering of some early apps featured front and center.

The first thing you notice upon launching the Mac App Store is the striking resemblance it bears to the iPad App Store. This, of course, shouldn't come as a surprise considering what we've been shown of the next iteration of Apple's desktop OS, Lion. It seems Apple has chosen to take many design cues from iOS "back to the Mac" indeed.

The only obvious difference we see at first glance is the omission of the "Genius" feature from the Mac App Store, which has been replaced with a "Purchases" button. In due time, we're sure Apple will port this feature over, though we're not sure why it's not present at the moment. Still, even the icons used for the respective screens are identical, and aside from a change in the orientation of top charts, the two app stores are still pretty damn similar.

Upon downloading your first Mac App, you'll be prompted to accept some new terms and conditions (which we totally took the time to read through with a fine toothed comb), and then you're off to the races. Unsurprisingly, Apple's own apps are currently dominating the top paid app charts -- for the moment at least -- but the venerable Angry Birds holds the top spot.

Like on the iPad (and iPhone for that matter) app store, each app page is a standardized, simple affair with a brief description, some screenshots, and customer ratings. Since the store just launched this morning, there aren't a ton of customer reviews just yet, but we expect that'll change in due time (read: quickly).

When you actually buy an app, the icon sort of jumps down into your dock, where it starts downloading with a little status bar beneath. This animation feels very iOS-esque (iOSque?), and could certainly be an indication of things to come when Lion arrives in Summer '11. You can also track download status under the Purchases tab, where you can see how large the app is as well. Apps are downloaded to your Mac's Applications folder, and it doesn't look like there's any way to change that default (for now at least).

As far as downloading apps, that's pretty much all there is to it. It's clear that this process is meant to be as simple and streamlined as possible just like the iOS counterparts. We'll be updating this post with more apps as we check 'em out, but if you've got any you would -- or wouldn't -- recommend don't hesitate to sound off in the comments.

App highlights

Angry Birds ($4.99 introductory price): It's the same Angry Birds you know and lose countless hours of productivity because of. The multitouch trackpad is a surprisingly good controller, but it still doesn't match direct input like on your iPhone or iPad. Also, the app uses a mouse-like input for selecting options and then switches back to direct touch control for actual gameplay, so switching between those modes can take a little getting used to.

Twitter (Free): If you're at all familiar with Tweetie for Mac, you'll feel right at home with Twitter for Mac, an app we actually knew would end up launching on the Mac App Store. It's got support for native retweeting, multiple accounts, and Growl notifications, so if you've been in the market for a new Twitter client and #newtwitter just isn't cutting it, be sure to give this a download.

Soundcloud (Free): Soundcloud's app in the Mac App Store takes everything we hate about the Soundcloud app and fixes it. We're talking easier sorting and searching, as well as built-in audio capture so you can upload straight from within the app. Follow and favorite from right within the app to curate a playlist of your liking -- all for the very low price of "free".

Chopper 2 (99 cents for a limited time): A followup to the wildly popular Chopper game for iPhone and Mac, Chopper 2 is a fun game with some pretty sweet 3D graphics. This second iteration has 36 new missions, and you can even use your iPhone or iPod touch as a WiFi remote control. For 99 cents -- for now at least -- how wrong can you go?