(Credit: Apple, Inc.)

These days, it may be hard to believe that Macs were once Apple's bread-and-butter. iPhones, Apple Watches, and iCloud now get the lion's share of the company's attention, while MacOS remains on less than 10 percent of laptops and desktops around the world. When Apple does introduce a new Mac product, it's invariably met with equal measures of excitement and criticism, even among the faithful.

SEE: iOS App Store subscriptions: Are you getting ripped off in the fine print?

For developers, the Mac App Store has presented its own set of challenges, as it's been a second-class citizen as much as MacOS has been to iOS in recent years. To figure out the ecosystem, a company named Setapp has been conducting in-depth surveys with Mac developers for several years, and it's just produced the results of its latest annual batch of survey questions.

Most of the questions relate to Setapp itself and how it compares to the Mac App Store (abbreviated as "MAS" in the report). Setapp is a service that provides a library of Mac apps for a flat monthly fee, so it competes with the App Store.

Setapp's top-line argument is that "the Mac App Store is slowly losing devs to the great unknown: fewer choose to sell exclusively through it -- down to 22 percent -- with more (32 percent, up from 30 percent) looking outside the App Store for customers, and slightly more picking both options (46 percent), compared to our 2017 survey results."

However, the actual changes from year to year are on the order of 1 to 2 percent, making it difficult to infer a substantial amount of change.

On the other hand, there is some other interesting data in the pile. For example, from 2016 to 2018, the respondents say that their proportion of revenue from the Mac App Store has declined from 48 percent to 41 percent. That's a pretty steep drop for the time frame. And when asked, "Do you think sharing 30 percent of revenue is worth what the Mac App Store gives you?" those in favor have vaulted from 31 percent to 51 percent in just one year.

Setapp's maker and survey designer MacPaw says, "It shows Apple has been doing some serious work to improve relations with developers," even though devs are reporting declining revenue. One reason for improved relations appears to be an improvement with sandboxing.

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In this context, sandboxing is a method used by Apple to keep MacOS insulated from potentially misbehaving desktop apps. Last year, the company made very frequent changes to this part of the OS, and it became difficult for developers to keep up with the changes.

It was the survey respondents' biggest complaint about the Mac App Store by far, but the issue has practically faded into background noise in the 2018 survey, indicating that Apple has settled down in this area.

Apple also reviews every app that goes into the Mac App Store, and survey respondents reported much better results in this department. Reviews happened more quickly, communication with the review team was more fulsome, and developers felt much better overall about the review process.

One of the results is that many more Mac developers are submitting their apps to the App Store. In 2017, only one quarter of respondents said that they'd tried distributed there, but it's almost completely flipped just one year later, with only 29 percent of respondents saying that they have not tried the Mac App Store. That sounds like good news for developers, Apple, and end users alike.

Takeaways

  • MacPaw, who provides a Netflix-like Mac app library called Setapp that competes with the Mac App Store, has just released the results of its annual developer survey.
  • According to the survey respondents, revenue from the Mac App Store has declined substantially from 2016, but their relations with Apple's internal app review team have gotten better, with faster evaluation and more communication.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.