Kobo Rebuffs Apple, Will Build HTML5 Bookstore
Apple's new App Store policies -- the ones I worried about when they were announced months ago -- have kicked in. From now on, app makers who sell content such as books and music have two ways of making it available. They can use Apple's In-App Purchase system to sell content within the app (giving Apple a 30 percent commission). Or they can sell it directly to consumers through their own venues, such as Web-based stores -- but can include no mentions or links relating to that fact in the iOS app itself.
Many third-party developers are choosing one route or the other without any public fuss. Canadian e-book purveyor Kobo is being a tad more prickly. It's updated its iOS app with a new version that meets the new rules -- it lets you read books you've purchased, but provides no way to buy them or register for a Kobo account, nor any explanation of how to do so. But it's also announcing plans to build an HTML5 e-reading app which will work in the iOS browser -- and which it'll control itself, with no requirement that it follow Apple's rules. And the company's chief iOS architect is detailing the Byzantine approval process which the Kobo app had to go through before Apple would finally approve it. (The essentially similar Borders app wasn't forced to jump through as many hoops, a reminder of the biggest problem with App Store rules: they're sometimes applied in an inconsistent, apparently arbitrary fashion.)
Going HTML5 doesn't solve Kobo's problems: It isn't possible to write a Safari app that's as slick and fluid as a native iOS app. I'm glad the company is giving it a try, though. (I wonder if you'll be able to read books when you aren't connected to the Internet?)
On one level, Apple's new rules aren't a huge deal. Nobody's being deprived of any content here: If you're smart enough to be reading digital books on an iPhone or iPad, you're probably smart enough to find the e-reader app's online store even if it's not mentioned in the app. You just have to click around on your own.
But since it is reasonably obvious that those stores exist, why is Apple forbidding mention of them in the apps? As far as I can tell, the two end results of the new policy are (A) more money in Apple's pocket if an app developer chooses to go through the In-App Purchase system; and (B) minor-but-completely-unnecessary inconvenience for Apple customers if an app developer spurns In-App Purchases. Neither scenario makes iPhone and iPad owners any happier or healthier. It feels like pointless bureaucracy.
Seems to me that Apple could fix this in a jiffy by simply permitting developers to include a link to their own Web stores in iOS apps. In-App Purchases would still be the most seamless way to purchase content; nobody would be forced to maintain an utter code of silence about the fact that there are alternative ways to buy stuff, too.
Looking on the bright side: again and again, Apple has shown that it's willing to adjust its App Store policies on the fly as circumstances require. If it changes them once more to allow Web store links, nobody will complain -- and some of us Apple customers will feel better about this whole affair.