Like many people, I have the Stanza app installed on my iPhone. Made by Lexycle (acquired by Amazon last year), Stanza is a free app for iPhone and iPod Touch that serves as a gateway to a library of more than 100,000 ebooks for easy reading on the go.
Last night, I was prompted to update the app to a new version (2.1), and as usual I checked what the changes were. The accompanying message was pretty brief: ‘Removed the ability to share books via USB’.
I thought it was an odd update but didn’t think much about it, and since I didn’t actually use that feature simply downloaded and installed the new version.
Just for your reference: the feature enabled users to transfer books in the ePub or eReader format to their mobile devices using a USB cable.
This morning, we got some tips from people who were angry or surprised about Lexcycle removing the USB sharing feature from the Stanza app. I looked up the app in the iTunes Store and saw that the update notice now read ‘Removed the ability to share books via USB as required by Apple’. A glance at the forums on the Lexcycle website revealed that users were quite upset about the removal of the app, with only some suggesting that Apple may have had something to do with it and offering explanations why they would have demanded it.
I asked Lexcycle if and why Apple had requested the removal of the feature from the iPhone app via e-mail and swiftly received a short response, saying that Apple had indeed demanded that Lexcycle remove the feature from Stanza. I requested more information but was subsequently told by Lexcycle was strictly ‘forbidden from discussing the specifics of our conversations with Apple on this matter’.
I’m sure Apple has good reasons to prevent people from being able to transfer files to iPhone and iPod Touch devices using a USB cable, and I believe this isn’t the first time they’ve asked developers of apps with this or similar features to remove them for new users. That said, I’m not 100% certain which rules were broken here, and since Apple requested Lexcycle not to discuss specifics we’re left guessing why Cupertino had an issue with the USB syncing features.
From an iPhone app development standpoint, you get access to two directories: (1) your app’s sandbox folder and (2) the DCIM directory for access to pictures and such. On a non-jailbroken iPhone, iPhone Explorer can access the DCIM directory, but not the apps sandbox. So we made a subfolder in the DCIM directory a common ground or shared folder for the two programs.
At the time we began doing this we figured that we were in the iPhone app development “gray zone” and this was something that Apple hadn’t officially made a stance upon. Once Good Reader topped the charts around the world, it drew a bunch of attention from people and Apple figured we were up to no good. After a series of e-mails back and forth between the iPhone app developers and an Apple correspondent, the conclusion was as follows:
(1) the iPhone apps must remove access to the DCIM directory (Apple claims this is in violation of the iPhone App Developer Agreement)
(2) the developers should not blame (point the finger at) Apple for being forced to remove access to the folder (hence the lack of explanation from Stanza).
Apple’s Michael Jurewitz also weighed in on Twitter, saying: “Simple point of fact — there are no public APIs for an iPhone app to sync via the USB cable”. He lated added that people are free to file an enhancement request. (Via MacWorld)
Naturally, this event adds fuel to the fire for the many observers claiming Apple is far too controlling, and it also seems rather suspicious that they’re targeting an Amazon company in light of the increased competition between the corporations in the ereader/ebook field. But in my mind, this is a small, non-essential feature they took away, and not updating the app to the new version preserves the USB sharing feature for those who deem it to be important enough to raise hell over anyway.
Do you think Apple is going too far in placing constraints on iPhone applications, or do you think they’re well within their right to exercise as much control over the whole process as they do? The comment section is all yours.