There are at least half a dozen great eBook apps for iOS which let you purchase, download, and read eBooks on your mobile device. And they all have one thing in common: you can’t actually use the apps to purchase books. Instead you’re dumped out to a mobile web site using the Safari web browser. That’s because Apple doesn’t allow anyone to distribute software in the App Store which lets you make in-app purchases without using iTunes.
So it really shouldn’t be all that surprising that Apple rejected Sony’s Reader app for iOS which included its own integrated book store. This isn’t just a case of Apple favoring its own iBooks service over Sony’s competing service. It’s Apple favoring its own payment service over everyone else’s.
That said, when the New York Times reported that Apple rejected the Sony Reader app (which is already available for Google Android devices), tech blogs including Engadget, TUAW, Business Insider, GottaBeMobile, and the Digital Reader were up in arms.
This really sounds like business as usual from Apple… which isn’t to say that it’s a good thing, but eBook app makers and other developers have been circumventing Apple’s rules with web-based bookstores for ages, so it sounds like Sony may have an easy solution.
On the other hand, The New York Times suggests that Apple also told Sony that developers can no longer “let customers have access to purchases they have made outside the App Store.” If that’s true, then it would mean that the web-based bookstore wouldn’t work — and it could be a sign that Apple might go after Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other companies which offer readers ways to purchase and download eBooks without using the iTunes service.
Update: It looks like there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that Apple hasn’t changed its official policy. The bad news is that the company is starting to enforce a rule that’s been there all along. Apps that allow users to purchase content through a third party web store must also let users purchase the content within the app — using Apple’s payment services. In other words, Apple wants to be able to get a cut of digital media sales. That’s not going to make Amazon and other third party eBook sellers happy… I wonder if they can submit apps that say “please don’t click here to purchase books, click here instead…”