What Microsoft needs to learn from the new Mac App Store

A little bit of that greener grass from the other side. Design by Michael West

In 2011, Steve Jobs himself launched the Mac App Store. He said that “users are going to love this innovative new way to discover and buy their favorite apps.” Mac devs warily got on board.

What followed was seven years of stagnation and frustration for developers and their users. It felt like the Mac App Store existed just to torment the Apple faithful with increasingly-draconian rules around app signing and sandboxing, all while persistent rumours that the App Store would become mandatory (like on iOS) hung over everyone’s heads like the sword of Damocles.

But since the release of Mojave, the Mac App Store has a new lease on life.

Why? Is it because of the suspiciously Fluent-esque sidebar, type, and cards? (Doesn’t hurt.) Is it that tasty new dark theme? (Maybe a little.)

No — it’s because Apple has finally delivered the “innovative new way to discover” apps that Steve Jobs promised in 2011. They’ve done this by hiring top industry journalists to editorialize the App Store and separate the wheat from the chaff, to the benefit of developers and users alike.

In Windows 10 land, it’s not that the Microsoft Store has been standing still. The quality of the average app in the Store is way up, thanks to the relentless enforcement of the Store’s rules by its quality team. And important publishers keep joining the Store, too; Win32 stalwarts are using the Desktop Bridge, and some of the cool kids from iOS and Android have ported their apps.

And yet, when a new user opens the Microsoft Store for the very first time, they’re hit with a bunch of apps that seem like they’re featured just because they’re on sale (or because they’ve been featured regularly for the past 6 years, and it’s practically tradition by this point).

Microsoft needs to “Think Different” about this, and take a page from Apple’s playbook. Microsoft’s users deserve the same high-effort, professional curation that Apple provides, and it needs to go deeper than just rotating through the same list of well-reviewed or presently-discounted apps.

We collaborated with Michael West, Windows Design MVP, to envision what the Microsoft Store would look like with Apple-like editorial flair. Behold:

Editorial features and small, laser-focused collections will build users’ trust in the Microsoft Store. Example editorial choices updated based on community feedback. Design by Michael West.

The Microsoft Store already curates its storefront, with app collections and promos. But it focuses on merchandising events like discounts and Black Friday. Whereas Microsoft treats the curated Store experience like it’s a department store flyer, Apple is investing in theirs like it’s the editorial section of a trusted technology publication.

It’s great that the Store promotes apps that are on sale — by doing so, it drives wallet adoption in the Store, increases commerce, and gives developers a nice bump. But what Microsoft really needs to do is empower the Store’s curation team with tools and talent for building users’ confidence.

By promoting hand-picked apps with a credible, authoritative voice, Microsoft can ensure that first-time Store users have a good experience. The end result: users will trust the Microsoft Store as a place to buy software, Windows developers can return to sneering at Apple, and our whole ecosystem wins.

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