Why Apple’s Mac App Store ‘sandboxing’ is ruffling developer feathers

the mac app sandbox apple

The iOS App Store has been a huge hit, inspiring app store imitators on nearly every platform. Meanwhile, Apple’s personal-computer equivalent, the Mac App Store, has also been a ferocious market-share grabber,  not least because it’s the only way to obtain the newest OS X update.  But while consumers love the one-stop convenience, the Mac App Store is becoming a lot less popular with the other half of the sales equation: developers.  Macro Arment, creator of Instapaper, has issued a blistering critique of the Mac App Store, and many other developers are speaking openly to long-time Apple source Macworld about their frustrations with the outlet.

Central to Arment’s critique is Apple’s newly-required “sandboxing,” which severely restricts developers in the name of security.  Every computer user, and especially the kind of non-technical users that Apple pursues, wants to feel confident that their applications aren’t going to erase their files, spam their friends, or contribute to the self-awareness of Skynet.  Apple users used to consider themselves happily virus-immune, but malware is starting to show up on the platform as its popularity makes it a more appealing target.  So Apple first implemented Gatekeeper, a system application that restricts your ability to install non-App-Store software, and then declared that by the end of summer, all apps on the Mac App Store had to keep away from any operations that Apple deems risky to security, unless they specifically petition Apple for “entitlements” to access those system calls.

But it’s tough for an application to do anything interesting without some access to things in the operating system.  Granting entitlements seems like a reasonable compromise, but as developer Wil Shipley noted, Apple hasn’t even created creating entitlement categories for all the things that developers commonly do, and actually reviewing every entitlement submitted would require a QA department the size of an iPad owner’s smug self-regard.  That means developers are going to have to either pull their software from the Mac App Store, or eliminate some of the features that make their software appealing.  

So Apple has demanded sandboxing to give consumers the security they want, but developers are saying it’s going to force them to abandon features consumers use.  Security versus power: It’s like a Dark Knight movie in your Home directory!  Of course, developers could simply stop distributing their software through the Mac App Store, but that only works until Apple decrees that every application installed on your Mac has to be sandboxed, a nightmare already haunting many users.  

Apple, of course, would rather have everyone stay in the Mac App Store and comply with sandboxing.  Those lovable rogues at One Infinite Loop have weathered storms of outrage before and come out on top, and they have reason to believe this is the kind of kerfuffle that vanishes once developers acknowledge that Apple has made customers happy in a way that those insensitive programmers never could. 

So far, plenty of developers are angry and are fleeing the app store in not-insignificant numbers,  but others have found sandboxing to be less restrictive than they expected.  Some well-informed writers say it’s all proven to be nothing but Internet hullabaloo  while users seem not to have noticed.  Still, as long-time Apple observer Andy Ihnatko says, “It’s going to take some time — maybe even a couple of years — before developers learn how to do everything they need to do under App Store restrictions, and Apple learns which of these restrictions could stand some loosening up. And until that happens, there will be some very real limitations on how good a Mac app can be.”  It remains to be seen whether users are willing to put up with a few years of sub-par software, or whether developers will put up with years of arbitrary treatment, while Apple figures it all out.

Computing

An inside look at Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx, a revolutionary laptop processor

Six years after Microsoft’s failed foray into ARM computing with Windows RT, its second effort with Always-Connected PC is now showing early signs of success. Microsoft partner Qualcomm told us how the Snapdragon 8cx might revolutionize…
Home Theater

Here’s how Apple’s HomePod can hear you across that noisy room

Apple published a report about the hearing technology inside its HomePod speaker, illuminating in great detail all the hardware and software that lets it hear you say, "Hey Siri" across a noisy room.
Mobile

‘PUBG Mobile’ highlights Google Play’s most popular content for 2018

Google announced its most popular content for 2018, including the most popular games, apps, movies, and more. PUBG Mobile was the most popular Android game of the year, while superhero movies nabbed four of the five top movies spots.
Mobile

Apple’s first iPhone XR case lets you show off your handset’s color

Apple has released its first case for the iPhone XR. Costing $39, the case has a clear back so you can show off the color of your phone, whichever of the six options you went for.
Deals

Score a refurbished iPad Air for just $120 with this exclusive promo code

Apple deals are fleeting, but for techies who want to score this great hardware on the cheap, buying refurbished is the way to go. If you're in the market for a tablet, then you're in luck: This refurbished iPad Air is now on sale for just…
Wearables

The Apple Watch Series 4's heart-monitoring ECG feature is now available

Apple officially unveiled the Apple Watch Series 4. From a larger display to a built-in electrical heart sensor, the latest device brings along some notable new features. Here's everything you need to know.
Mobile

Microsoft Outlook for iOS gets big redesign, with Dark Mode coming soon

Microsoft has deployed a huge redesign for its Outlook for iOS app, which includes new blue branding and some quality-of-life improvements. Dark Mode isn't included, but it's coming soon.
Mobile

Galaxy Watch vs. Apple Watch Series 4: Which one is the smartest?

The Samsung Galaxy Watch and the Apple Watch Series 4 are two of the best smartwatches available today. But which is better? We put the two watches head-to-head to find out which you should buy.
Mobile

The best weather apps for the iPhone

Don't rely solely on your local meteorologist to stay up to date on the weather. Take matters into your own hands with one of these weather apps, each of which brings something unique to the table.
Computing

These are the 5 best free antivirus apps to protect your MacBook

Malware protection is more important than ever, even if you eschew Windows in favor of Apple's desktop platform. Thankfully, protecting your machine is as easy as choosing from the best free antivirus apps for Mac suites.
Deals

The best iPad deals for December 2018

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for December 2018.
Deals

The best Apple Watch deals for December 2018

The Apple Watch has surged to prominence in recent years. If you're in the market for an iOS wearable, we've sniffed out the best Apple Watch deals available right now for all three models of this great smartwatch.
Deals

The best iPhone deals for December 2018

Apple devices can get expensive, but if you just can't live without iOS, don't despair: We've curated an up-to-date list of all of the absolute best iPhone deals available for December 2018.
Mobile

5G’s arrival is transforming tech. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.