Apple bans Sony e-reader app; are others next?
Apple rejected a Sony e-reader app for allowing customers to read books purchased outside of Apple's App Store. So says a New York Times story that describes a major change in how media companies can do business with customers on Apple's mobile devices:
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.
That's not how iPhone, iPod touch and iPad software works today. While Apple's App Store rules ban programs that sell new "content, functionality or services" to users outside of its App Store, Apple has long allowed applications to send a user to Apple's Safari browser to make a purchase.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Google's e-book reader programs all work along those lines. Sony's would have used that same model.
The Cupertino, Calif., company has also tolerated apps that rely on subscriptions purchased elsewhere, such as the Hulu Plus and Netflix video-viewing programs or Ongo's newspaper browser (which debuted the day after that site launched, despite worries by its executives that Apple would hold up the app).
Or consider AT&T's Navigator app, which bills subscription fees of $9.99 a month or $69.99 a year directly to your AT&T account.
Amazon, B&N and Google representatives have not answered e-mails requesting a comment, while an AT&T publicist said she'd look into this issue. Ongo spokesman Dan Gould wrote that "Apple has not shared any concerns regarding Ongo's subscription process."
Apple, for its part, has begun providing a statement that it's not banning outside-the-app purchases but now requires that programs match any such external option with an App Store transaction. A post at the Loop, a blog written by veteran Mac reporter Jim Dalrymple, quotes Apple as follows:
"We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines," Apple spokesperson, Trudy Muller, told The Loop. "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."
That need not be a problem for individual iPhone users, who will--in theory--get a faster, simpler way to enhance an application with a new feature, service or subscription. But it could be less palatable to app publishers, who will only keep 70 percent of each App Store in-app transaction (PDF) and will also have to watch as Apple learns more and more about their customers.
Even in the case of a new, iPad-only venture such as News Corporation's The Daily--to be introduced tomorrow--will media companies welcome Apple inserting itself between them and their customers after years of doing otherwise?
(That group includes the Post Co., which plans to charge for a subscription to its iPad app.)
Forrester analyst James McQuivey gave a simple verdict in a blog post today: "At Forrester, our call is clear: this is a mistake."
Calling it "fundamentally at odds with the pro-consumer revolution Apple started," McQuivey wrote that this move will only steer business towards other tablet platforms, starting with Google's Android. It may also get Apple a closer look from regulators, deserved or not: "The FTC is going to get quite a few phone calls on this one."
What's your take on this? Does it matter to you how you pay to upgrade or extend an iPhone app as long as the transaction is completed as advertised? How far do you think Apple will go in pushing this change?
| February 1, 2011; 1:26 PM ET
Categories: Apple, E-books, Mobile
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