Is the Mac App Store a software game changer?
Now why would Apple choose a day in early January for a significant launch? Could it be just a coincidence that the Mac App Store made its debut right in the middle of the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, a huge event for the tech industry but one always boycotted by Steve Jobs and co? Of course not.
For the Mac community - once a tiny group of zealots, now quite a mob - the arrival of this online store selling software for Apple computers caused a frenzy of excitement. The rest of the world stifled a yawn and pointed out that buying software online is hardly new. But, as ever with Apple, a flashy new twist on an old but hitherto poorly presented idea could prove a winner.
Because ask yourself this - when did you last buy any software for a home computer? If you're like the friends I've questioned your answer is "err, never" or "I think my wife once got Norton to put on the PC", or "my son got us a sneaky student discount on some outrageously expensive photo software so we got that."
For whatever reason, the software industry has been hopeless at selling its products to the general public, preferring to concentrate on getting businesses to shell out huge amounts to acquire licenses for enterprise products like Microsoft Office.
If you're a home user who wants to edit some photos, for instance, and needs something a bit more sophisticated than the free program bundled with your computer you might choose Adobe's Photoshop - and then find a bewildering array of products at prices ranging from £51 to £613.
Or you want to get some presentation software from Apple and find you have to pay more than £70 and can only get it bundled with a word processor and a spreadsheet that you don't need.
The result is that many people choose to live with what comes pre-loaded on their computers, acquiring the odd free open-source download or perhaps a pirated product passed on by friend. Like music for today's teenagers, software is something we have come to expect to get for nothing.
Until that is, the arrival of the App Store for the iPhone in 2008. By getting phone users to pay small amounts for apps - everything from a train time checker to the wildly popular Angry Birds game - Apple introduced millions to the idea that new software could enhance your device and might have a value.
So there will be a ready-made audience for the Mac App Store on computers which looks identical to those on Apple's mobile devices. What will people buy? It looks as though games are already popular with Angry Birds top of the sales chart' so that's yet another new source of revenue for Apple , which until now has failed to sell the Mac as a suitable platform for gaming.
Then there are cheap apps like Weather HD - a 59p weather forecaster. Why you would pay for something you could get for nothing by opening a browser isn't clear but I bet quite a few will. More revenue for Apple and more importantly another reason for the new army of app developers to concentrate on the Mac OS rather than Google's Android.
And then there are Apple's own products - and here there's a fascinating insight into the economics of software. Go into the Apple Store and buy the photo editing package Aperture and you will pay £173. But download it from the Mac App Store and you will pay just £44.99.
It's the oldest lesson in business - slash prices and you'll have consumers hammering on the doors of your store. If Apple can still make a profit on a product whose price has come down by 75% and I bet it can as Aperture is currently listed as the biggest earner in the App store - then surely others will be forced to follow suit.
So, yes, selling software online is nothing new, however well it's packaged. But if by clever pricing Apple can get people to buy it in large numbers then it will have done the whole software industry a service.