A lot of developers (myself included) have expressed disappointment in the app store on ideological grounds. Can’t install your own software! Apple keeps competitors off the platform! Apple doesn’t let innovative apps through!
But there’s another angle to this that nobody’s covering. The app store keeps piracy off the platform. Not because it makes buying easier than pirating (which it does), but it also makes pirating hard. You can’t be running the latest firmware. You have to forego security updates. Apple’s own development tools often have unexpected behavior on jailbroken devices (not intentional, I think. Just Apple never bothered to test it).
And so developers are pacified because piracy is constrained to those people who wouldn’t have bought anyway (in a way that computer apps aren’t). This sort of stronghandedness hasn’t worked on other platforms because the users are up in arms. Extra DRM isn’t a feature.
But in this case, the app store acts like an insurance policy. None of the apps are going to wipe out your data. They’re not going to hook into your OS and break Dashboard. They’re not going to forward themselves to everyone on your address book. Users are willing to put up with buying more software if it actually works. And so this is an acceptable trade for them.
And meanwhile, Apple is sitting in the back, pocketing lots of cash. They’ve pacified the developers with more money (less piracy), and they’ve pacified the users with software that works. They’ve solved the two biggest problems in the industry, and they’ve been incredibly successful as a result. The major personal computing platforms of today are no longer desktop and laptop PCs. They’re devices running the iPhone OS.
2012 may very well be the year of the Linux desktop. But only because people using Linux might be the only desktop users left.