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February 1, 2011 • eBooks, Editorials

Tough Call: Is Apple Being Draconian & Greedy … or Is Sony Trying to Pull a Fast One?

If you track technology, you have likely seen the NYTimes article or one of the echo-articles declaring a shift in how Apple operates the app store, citing the rejection of the Sony Reader app and a vague quote from a Sony Rep as evidence.

There is a lot of speculation there, but it ultimately comes down to the interpretation of two sections of a single sentence:

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.

OK, first things first: “can no longer sell content, like e-books, within their apps”.

That is old news – when Apple introduced the in-app purchase capability they made it clear that anyone using it had to handle it through Apple. While it can be construed as Draconian, it is really no different from having Amazon sellers having to abide by their rules and work through their payment system. It gives a kickback, to be sure, but it actually does more to protect the consumer from the rampant and ever-smarter scammers and thieves.

Apple has been slowly tightening up enforcement of many rules such as this, so to me that is not a huge deal.

But here is the doozie: ” (can no longer) let customers have access to purchases they have made outside the App Store”.

If this is true … then all I can say is whoa. If true, this is perhaps the single biggest STUPID THING Apple could do. But I don’t believe that the Times has it right – I am not yet calling BS on it, but let’s say I’m not burning my iPad in effigy just yet.

The problem? I don’t trust Sony, and have no doubt that they would try to do things in a way that is ‘their way’ regardless of rules and warnings, and then come out crying that they have been injusticed. They have a history of deceit and hubris … so why stop now?

If Sony tried to put in an app that allows an in-app store to exist that circumvents the Apple rules, they DESERVE to have been rejected. Period. And the vague quote from Sony points to that very possibility.

This from Technologizer sums up my concerns:

If Sony’s rejected app sent you to the iPhone’s browser to buy books, like the Amazon, B&N, and Kobo ones do–well, why doesn’t the Times say so? And just who are the other developers who have been told they can’t sell content within apps?

Exactly. My money is on Sony having set up an in-app store system so they wouldn’t need to deal with the variety of mobile browsers and simply ported that between Android and iOS. Of course, how they managed to get past EXACTLY THE SAME RULE on Android … I have no idea. Perhaps they could tell Kongregate. Or perhaps their deals on the NGP and ‘PlayStation Phone’ allow them to not follow certain rules.

What do you think? Is this Sony being slimy? Or is Apple being arbitrarily Draconian and more greedy than usual? Do you think they actually plan to use this rule as leverage to kill off the Kindle and Nook apps? And if they actually do go through with any or all of that … what do you plan to do about it?

Update: Carly checked out the Android Sony Reader app and apparently it does bounce you to the browser for purchases. Personally I hadn’t gotten that far since it is a huge app with piggy performance and no ability to dump to the SD card. That has the potential to indicate that Apple really has stepped over the line into what could potentially be called anti-competitive as well as definitely nasty behavior.

However, there is also a report that Sony did things in-app for the iOS version. Of course since we haven’t seen the app we have no idea. But if that is the case you have to question the motivation – are they trying to develop a portable in-app ecosystem, or just start something and make Apple look bad in an area where there is already broad mistrust. Hmmm … curiouser and curiouser …

8 Responses to " Tough Call: Is Apple Being Draconian & Greedy … or Is Sony Trying to Pull a Fast One? "

  1. Carly Z says:

    It’s entirely possible Sony is that stubborn. However, Sony has had a ton of mis-steps in the ebook world so far, and they don’t exactly have leverage. So there’s not a big advantage for them to tussle with Apple. Especially when this app is already late.

    Also, the Android app kicks you to the browser. It’s not in-app purchasing. I just tested it.

    So if Sony DID create one just for iOS they should have known better…and if it was browser-based then there’s a problem.

    Personally if it’s not Sony it’s someone else, but the day is coming when Apple is going to try something like this…that’s my fear.

  2. tamaracks says:

    I definitely don’t think the full story is being told here. The Loop reported:

    “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.”

    http://www.loopinsight.com/2011/02/01/apple-responds-to-sony-in-app-purchase-report/

    That confuses the story even more. I don’t think the Times article sounds correct, but if what The Loop reports is true (and if Sony was in fact using an external web interface), then that is a different stance than was taken with Google Books and Kindle. Not as bad as what the Times claims, but different than anything I recall hearing before.

  3. Christopher Gavula says:

    I’m not sure how to take this one – it keeps “evolving” – as you say- quickly! If Apple is blocking redirection to a web-based store, then this is a very bad precedent. Most of the ebook readers are using this to accomplish sales. SInce all they are doing is redirecting to a web site and then using an internal mechanism to download files into the app – both techniques that MANY apps use for many reasons – not just sales – then it seems to me it opens up a whole lot of different questions – none of them good. However, if Sony actually tried to put book purchasing directly into their IOS app then we clearly have Sony playing games since it sounds like they did NOT do that in their Android app! So now we really need to hear from someone who has actually seen the IOS app. I suspect that will be next – Apple will itemize what was wrong with the Sony app and/or Sony will try to make a case specifically pointing out how their app did no wrong! Stay tuned!

  4. Daniel Chow says:

    Tough Call: Is Apple Being Draconian & Greedy … or Is Sony Trying to Pull a Fast One? http://goo.gl/fb/hNbL6 #android

  5. […] big news this week has been Apple’s rejection of the Sony Reader app. Mike covered it in detail, and I weighed in with my thoughts on how Apple’s newfound love of their SDK rule might […]

  6. […] today Mike brought us the news that Sony’s Reader app was rejected from the App Store, and he did a great job of explaining how murky the whole story […]

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