So for my haul project, I’ve decided to analyze Apple’s Mac App Store as a site of both consumption and production. Everyday, over fifty million apps are downloaded from the Mac App Store, and over its lifetime a total of  fifty billion plus apps have been download. The App Store is also distinct from most brick-and-mortar stores in that it easily enables new sellers to bring their product online (though often with a substantial cut of the profits for Apple). However, Apple also serves as a barrier between many would-be apps and the market, effectively constraining what consumers have access to consume. Despite this, there are thousands of various apps catered to a wide range of consumers and lifestyles. And consumers have an outlet for production and the creation of collective intelligence in their reviews, feedback, and consumption of products, which ultimately have an impact on the product’s position in the store.

Categories of the App Store

One of the key determinants of consumption is, obviously, what consumer products are being offered for consumption. In the Mac App Store, all apps are categorized into either one or more of 21 different categories. We can see from this screen shot the different sorts of categories available on the store: business, finance, productivity, utilities, etc.

There are multiple products that, like tools in a hardware store, empower consumers as producers. This includes apps in categories such as developer tools, entertainment, graphics & design, lifestyle, music, photography, productivity, utilities, and video.

However, I noticed that most of these empowerment tools involved largely cultural and informational production: photo editing apps, writing apps, etc. For photographers, graphic designers, and musicians especially, there are a large range of specialized apps and tools. But there are no specialized apps for plumbing, for instance, or agriculture. Clearly this store is not meant for certain segments of consumers.

These are also tools that are especially useful for workers in the new service-information industry, making themselves differentiated with résumés, portfolios, organizational skills, etc. The self-finance, productivity, and utility tools also harken to the modern rise of self-employment, and the 24/7 laborer for whom work does not end with their shift.

In contrast to sections on business and finance, there is no section on politics, community organizing, and other such collective endeavors. Admittedly, many tools from other categories can be implemented in the pursuit of collective action, but it’s still an omission which has implications in how people think about their apps. Many people would never consider using graphic design skills to print flyers calling for a boycott of sweatshop products, or a personal organizer to help organize their local unions.

Top Paid Apps

Here we have the page for the Top Paid, Top Free, and (not shown in the image) Top Grossing apps on the market. A feature of many online stores, this is a site where consumers in their consumption are simultaneously involved in production. The list of bestsellers, highest rated apps, and these top lists are the direct result of consumer activity – and it forms a key component of the store.

This is a democratization of digital store fronts happening all across the internet, and less so in brick-and-mortar stores. Consumers collectively determine with their feedback and purchases what apps and products deserve to be highlighted and recognized, and which deserve to be forgotten and ignored.

Reviews of the Things To-Do App

This is the product page of a to-do app called Things, and specifically, this is the customer ratings and customer reviews section. It is here that most of the consumers’ production is made, in the writing of reviews and the assigning of ratings. In addition, particular reviews can be assessed by readers as either helpful or unhelpful, and the store automatically brings to the top those reviews that have been marked as most helpful.

Together, the aggregate consumer opinion serves as its own cultural intermediary between the product and other would-be consumers. The rise of the Mac App Store is similar to how Featherstone described the rise of new institutions for the recording, preserving, and analyzing of cultural products, along with an increase in the number of cultural intermediaries.

And eschewing the typical view of cultural intermediaries, the new aggregate intermediary doesn’t require substantial economic capital, nor any form of credentialed cultural capital in order to evaluate products. However, that is not to say the Mac App Store has no hierarchical intermediaries. Indeed, as can be seen from the categories, Apple plays a significant role as a mediator between consumer and product.

Editors’ Choice Page

Here is a prime example of traditional cultural intermediaries: the Editors’ Choice Page. Apple’s app store editors maintain this page, a curated list of Editors’ Choice apps, and in doing so serve as a cultural intermediary – determining that these apps are the “the most innovative and entertaining” and “the best debuts” amongst the latest releases. As Apple employees (and also being a permanent special page featured on the App Store), they also have a type of credentialed cultural capital as described by Holt.

Personally, I don’t find this page particularly helpful, especially in the absence of any commentary (on the store, anyway) as to why the particular app was chosen as an editors’ choice. However, many people probably place much weight in the evaluations of Apple’s representatives, and thus traffic will be diverted from competitor apps to these editors’ choices.

Editors’ choice apps are also frequently featured on the main banner scroll in the App Store’s home page (not viewed here), ensuring substantial amounts of views and a larger advertisement than most other apps are afforded.

Big Name Games Page

This is another special page designed specifically for “big name games,” and it demonstrates the power that major brands wield. Almost all of the apps featured are major brand names – BioShock, Lego, Lord of the Rings, Total War, Batman, Angry Birds, Star Wars, Grand Theft Auto, Sid Meier, Roller Coaster Tycoon, etc. Although brands are already invested with much power, this page essentially solidifies their dominance.

The loyalty of customers to their video game titles is also highlighted in the customer reviews. Several titles have over a hundred reviews, with some larger names (such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) with more than a thousand reviews – and all the while maintaining average ratings of 4/5 or higher.

Game Center Page

This special page features the Game Center, one of Apple’s projects to create a social experience around their gaming apps. Although perhaps not their most successful endeavor, it is nonetheless an attempt to create a new element of habitus for their consumers. The aim is to make gaming a social experience, so whenever you play a game on an Apple product, ideally it will be connected to the game center. This is a considerable shift in most habits of traditional gamers, though it may be more amenable to the new wave of social network gamers (see: Farmville).

It is also an integration of what is described in Lury’s work as sociality: the creation (or at least attempted creation) of relations between people through their consumer products (in particular, their Apple-approved games). Related to this is the idea of the imagined community, which these multiplayer gamers will certainly be a part of when interacting with one another via the Game Center.

Better Together Page

Another effort to push Apple’s own features, services, and products, the Better Together special page highlights applications which sync with both the Mac and Apple’s mobile products: the iPhone and iPad. The use of apps that operate seamlessly across the Apple line of products creates what some call an “ecosystem” of Apple products and applications. There are similar ecosystems for Android and Google products, and Windows. So in a way, this page is an effort to push Apple’s own brand of ecosystem, and demonstrate to shoppers the opportunities they have with Apple’s other products.

In pushing for an ecosystem of products and apps, however, Apple is also attempting to build a branded habitus for its customers. Our preferences in phone, tablet, computer, and applications all form our habitus: what Bourdieu describes as our set of tastes, habits, and knowledge which determine our supposedly internally produced preferences. But as this page demonstrates, brands like Apple, Google, and Windows are constantly competing to influence the habitus of consumers.

Get Stuff Done Page

Finally, I include here an example of a special page which caters to a particular lifestyle. In this case, the page features “apps for productive people” – singled out here as a particular base of consumers (though, evidently large enough to warrant a special page). There are many such special pages (such as the few shown below), catering to groups of consumers such as photographers, designers, developers, and students. Here, there are multiple different productivity apps featured, with several of them competing against one another. But what matters here isn’t which particular app is consumed, but that the consumer puts the app to productive purposes: prioritizing, organizing, etc; the markers of this particular lifestyle-class.

These lifestyle pages also capitalize on certain imagined communities, for instance, the imagined community of photographers. These lifestyle communities aren’t given much of a forum in the app store – that’s mostly relegated to communities around individual apps – but are nonetheless united in their common consumption of particular apps, their occupations, education, etc.

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