Here we go again.
It has been a few weeks since we had a story about how Apple is evil, or how the relatively closed system that fuels the iPad and iPhone will be the downfall of society. We were due. And tonight we got such a story. Maybe. Or maybe not at all. It doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that Apple is closed! Closed, I tell you! The empire is going to collapse any moment now.
Tonight, The New York Times is reporting that Apple is “further tightening its control of the App Store”. How? Apparently, they rejected a Sony e-book reader app. Here’s the key blurb:
The company has told some applications developers, including Sony, that they can no longer sell content, like e-books, within their apps, or let customers have access to purchases they have made outside the App Store.
While no one actually cares about the Sony eReader app, everyone is quick to jump on the Kindle angle here. This means the Kindle app on the iPad is dead, right? As my colleague Jason Kincaid wrote earlier, “An alternative title, should the report prove accurate, could be, Apple Underscores The Downsides Of Its Closed Platform. Really, things look like they are going to get nasty.”
Here’s the thing: apps like this have actually never been allowed to sell their content within their apps. Instead, Amazon’s Kindle app dumps you out onto the web where you have to buy it. So there’s absolutely no difference there.
Now, if Apple were to block the Kindle app from recognizing content bought outside of iTunes (through Amazon) that would be a change of policy. And yes, that would be very annoying. But it’s simply not clear if that’s the case yet. Again, here’s how NYT puts it, “Apple rejected Sony’s iPhone application, which would have let people buy and read e-books bought from the Sony Reader Store.” Did Apple reject it because Sony was trying to let users buy e-books through their app (again, an old policy)? Or because it simply allowed them to access those e-books bought outside the app? Hard to say.
Later, NYT specifically notes that this change in policy “could” affect Amazon’s Kindle app. But they only say it “may” change, and cite a Sony president on the matter — no one from Apple, no one from Amazon.
Regardless, here are a few bigger picture items that everyone seems to be overlooking. If Apple really wants their iBookstore to succeed, playing hardball is inevitable. Right now, you can’t buy books within the Kindle app. The reason for this is probably twofold. First, since the purchases wouldn’t go through iTunes, Apple wouldn’t make its 30 percent in-app purchase cut. And second, Amazon still has a much better selection of e-books than Apple does. So allowing users to easily buy Amazon books through the Kindle app would be cutting their own product off at the knees. That’s not evil. That’s business.
Apple could conceivable try to force Amazon (and others like Sony) to use iTunes for e-book in-app purchases — similar to how Facebook is now starting to force app developers to use their credit system. And who knows, maybe this even plays into their upcoming iTunes revamp that will allow for new models like content subscriptions. But would Amazon really play along and pay Apple 30 percent off of every sale? Probably not.
Actually, that’s too weak. No way in hell, is more like it.
Sony’s statement sounds as if that they were looking forward to taking advantage of the success of the iPad to bolster their own struggling e-book products. But it’s not like they can sell their books on the Kindle either. Instead, the Kindle exists so Amazon can move their own products. And no one is calling Amazon “evil” because of it.
But the larger point goes back to what I poked fun at in the beginning of this post. There seems to be this desire to paint Apple’s relatively closed system as “evil” in some way. But the reality, of course, is that it’s not evil. If anything, it has just proven to be good business. In fact, one of the most successful business models ever. Once again we’re simply seeing that the case against Apple is just as much a case for Apple.
The larger public simply doesn’t care about this whole open versus closed debate. And it doesn’t really seem like developers actually making the apps do either. But the press certainly seems to for some reason. We get so damn angry about things like this — when we read them on our iPads.
Apple sold nearly 15 million iPads in just 8 months last year. Does anyone really believe the product is going to crash and burn this year? I can hear the masses, “You know, I was going to buy an iPad, if only they had accepted that Sony eReader app. Damn…”
Update: Both Sony and Apple have gotten back to us on the issue.
Apple is now requiring “in-app” purchasing rather than linking out to our store. That’s not what we submitted based on precedent set by other eBook retailers. We’re working on a solution.
We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines. We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.
Despite the fact that those two statements mildly contradict one another (it seems like Sony’s should have “as well as” instead of “rather than”), this is all exactly what I talked about in the second half of the post.