Usability and accessibility of Apple Mac App Store

I recently set up a contact group in my Apple Mac address book. I wanted to distribute a document with the names, telephones and email addresses so that all the members of the group could contact each other.

The obvious answer was to extract the information from the address book into a CSV file that I could load into a spreadsheet. A quick check confirmed that export to CSV was not a function of the standard software.

Apple had just set up an App Store specifically for the Mac. Two mouse clicks got me to the App Store and a quick search found two applications that would do the trick. I chose the cheaper as it did what I needed and cost less than one pound.

I had already set myself up with one click purchasing so I clicked on buy and without me having to do anything else the product was installed and in my application dock waiting to be used. A little bit of playing and I got exactly the report I needed. The group changes regularly so with this process I will be able to send out new reports regularly with minimal effort.

From requirement to the right report took about 10 minutes, of which the last five were tweaking it to be exactly how I wanted it.

I then thought about how long it would have taken if I had tried before the App Store was available, and came up with the following steps:

  • open a browser
  • enter a search
  • find a Mac application amongst lots of other results
  • compare the apps
  • check the legitimacy of the site
  • register with the site: name, address, telephone, email etc.
  • pay for the product, this normally means going to another room to find my credit card
  • download the application
  • unpack the application
  • install the application (normally 4 or 5 steps)
  • finally start using the app

I have not tried it but I reckon it would have taken me 15 to 20 minutes to find and install the product and a final 5 to tweak the report.

The ease of use of the App Store really appeals to my usability and accessibility hats.

Having said that I have a few suggestions for improvement:

  • For keyboard only users it is difficult to see the current focus in the App store, a thicker line to show focus would be a real benefit.
  • There is no text zoom feature so I had to use screen zoom which is not as friendly.
  • From pressing the buy button to the product being available may take a few moments depending on the Internet speed and the size of the application. There is no progress indicator so it is difficult to tell if it is working. A simple indicator showing what stage is in progress would make the process less stressful. Interestingly updates do have a progress indicator.
  • The App store does not automatically notify you of updates to the apps. You can go into the App store and you can ask about updates but I am used to Apple telling me when there are updates to its product automatically, App Store should do the same.

Everyone who has a Mac should register with the App Store. Everyone who has an App they want people to use should include it in the Store.

Finally there is a really nice little free App called Menu Pop, which removes the need to move the mouse cursor to the menu bar, try it out.

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Peter is Practice Leader (Accessibility & Usability) at Bloor Research. Peter started in IT as a sandwich student in 1966 with IBM and continued to work for them until 2003. In a company then known especially for its hardware Peter saw the importance of software and especially transactional processing. He installed the first IMS online system in the UK as well as early versions of DB2. In 2004 his experience with some disabled friends and a report by the Disabilities Rights Commission prompted him to start research into IT accessibility for the disabled. Recognising the growing importance of this area he set up Bloor's Usability and Accessibility practice.