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Over the weekend: 360 MacDev looks forward

It was not enormous, nor was it filled with flashing lights, giant monitors or masses of people. Instead, 360 MacDev's current incarnation was a smallish gathering of like-minded individuals of all ages (more on that later) interested in getting together, talking shop and discussing theory. While most people these days will equate Mac developers to Apple's ubiquitous line of iOS-powered mobile devices, there is about to potentially be a new market for desktop programs with the launch of Apple Mac App Store.

There was some excitement in the air about the store's imminent launch, but like all things Apple does, nobody really knows exactly what they're supposed to expect or even desire from it until it's in their hands. Desktop software has always been a bit of a mystery for casual computer users to find, install and use, with most homemade or small-team apps relying heavily on blog-coverage and word-of-mouth advertising to get their product into people's hands. Developers have a lot of confidence in Apple and with the ridiculous success of the App Store, they're hoping lightning will strike twice when the same thing gets rendered on the Mac.

The bulk of the conference dealt with talks far above my head; coding tricks, UI design, sound engineering and other things I've always just left to the masters. My comprehension-level of the talks I attended was the equivalent of a cat's understanding of the uncertainty principle. Still, there was plenty of chatter in the air about the potential for the Mac App Store.

"We're not officially doing anything right now," said David Wiskus, Chief Creative Officer at Denver-based iOS App developer Double Encore, "but the potential is big enough that we want to be prepared." Wiskus went on say that clients were beginning to ask questions about "Mac Apps" for the first time, regardless of the fact desktop applications have been around since the first personal computer landed in someone's home. If Apple's good for one thing, it's creating buzz for something that has already existed for a long time.

The Mac App Store is promising a lot. It's promising a consistent, usable store interface for developers to utilize and sell their goods. It's also providing a simple interface for people to purchase things in one place, the "Wal-Mart of app stores," as Wiskus describes. It also promises the same core update functionality as the iOS app store, which means people might actually keep their applications up-to-date.

Developers have to play by Apple's rules, which means a yearly buy-in of $99 and the acceptance that Apple will be skimming a hefty 30% off the top of each sale. That's not much when we talk about iPhone apps, which rarely top the $10 mark, but considering most desktop applications retail for a higher price, it might be less interesting once the razzle-dazzle wears off. Which is where Jay Freeman, the man behind Cydia, the jailbroken iPhone store, comes in.

"The Cydia store will be built to rival the Mac Store," said Freeman during his lengthy presentation, "It's for developers who want to do things outside Apple's framework." Freeman is a notorious critic of Apple's closed system, which doesn't tend to allow for developers to experiment much outside of Apple's guidelines. Freeman's fear, it would seem, stems from the idea that the Mac App Store will eventually lead to a fully closed operating system. It's also clear that Freeman sees Cydia as a marketplace for "extensions" rather than full-blown applications -- meaning it's a way to add certain functionality outside the pre-contained box of an application.

Either one could prove the next wave for Santiago Gonzales and Charlie Fish.

When I first walked in, it was hard not to notice two kids sitting up front. At first I didn't think much of it, assuming they were just that, kids. Then they started asking questions during the Q&A sections and I would eventually learn they both had developed a few apps for iPhone.

Gonzales, the main man behind app development company Hicaduda, is 12 years old and has developed and sold over 10 apps. He started programming at the age of five and starting next semester will begin taking classes full-time at Colorado School of Mines. He's also hard at work on three different applications for the Mac App store, which he thinks is going to be a great service for "developers to share, access and find programs."

Next to Gonzales was Charlie Fish, of App-Whiz, who is also 12 years old and has worked on a series of different iPhone programs. Like Gonzales, he thinks the Mac App Store is a good way for developers to get their product to consumers and is excited to start working on desktop applications.

The funny thing about talking with 12-year\-olds about developing applications is that, regardless of how they first might appear, the conversation quickly moves along in the same way it would if they were adults. It's certainly impressive to be doing this at such a young age, but neither of them came across as "exceptional" in the way that they viewed themselves as out-of-the-ordinary. Just a couple kids playing around and having fun, doing what they like to do.

When it boils down to it, this is what the app store is made for. It's a marketplace for people to quickly and effectively distribute their ideas without a lot of startup cash, where it doesn't matter who you are, or even how old, just how good your idea is.

Regardless of what people at 360 MacDev expect and hope for from the Mac App Store, only time will tell what it's capable of delivering. It's certainly not anything new or revolutionary, but neither were the iPod, the iPhone or the iPad.

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Thorin Klosowski
Contact: Thorin Klosowski