[UPDATE: Apple issues a statement, causes more confusion.]
The news that Sony's Reader ebook app has been rejected from Apple's App Store has caused a tsunami of sensationalist speculation predicting that Amazon's Kindle app is living on borrowed time and is destined to be dumped.
Not so fast!
Let's look at the facts before jumping to conclusions. We'll begin by looking at what Sony actually said.
Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division is mentioned in a piece in the NYT, but it's vague and not a direct quote:
Apple told Sony that from now on, all in-app purchases would have to go through Apple, said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division.
Like I said it's vague, but cling on to that phrase "in-app purchases" for a moment.
Next, on Sony's Reader website, the company had this to say:
We would like to update everyone on the status of our Reader™ for iPhone® mobile application. We created an app that we’re very excited about, which includes all the features you’ve come to expect from a mobile reading application – including access to your existing collection, synching with your Reader Daily Edition™ and purchasing new content as is possible on other mobile platforms.
Unfortunately, with little notice, Apple changed the way it enforces its rules and this will prevent the current version of the Reader™ for iPhone® from being available in the app store. We opened a dialog with Apple to see if we can come up with an equitable resolution but reached an impasse at this time. We’re exploring other avenues to bring the Reader experience to Apple mobile devices. We know that many of you are eagerly awaiting the application and we appreciate your continued patience.
The bit that stood out to me was this part:
"Apple changed the way it enforces its rules and this will prevent the current version of the Reader™ for iPhone® from being available in the app store."
This is a curious statement. It implies that Sony was doing something that was previously considered OK, but now not. No specifics to go on here, but saying that Apple has changed the way it is enforcing a particular rule doesn't automatically mean that all apps that are similar to Sony's Reader ... say Amazon's Kindle app ... all fall under this blanket ban.
There's a key difference between Sony's Reader app and Amazon's Kindle app that seems to have escaped the attention of many tech pundits. Unlike the Kindle app, which uses the web browser to redirect users to the Amazon website to make purchases, Reader had greater built-in access to Sony's ebook store. While this definitely streamlines the purchasing/downloading/archiving process dramatically, but it also means that, in the strictest sense, that these purchases are "in-app purchases," meaning that Apple is entitled to a cut. Amazon's purchases on the other hand happen outside the app (you can buy them on the desktop or Kindle device too). Sony's mechanism isn't an "in app purchase" in the sense of dopwnloading a new game level, but the integration of the app to the Reader store seems greater than for the Kindle app. By comparison, the Kindle app is very basic ... you have access to downloaded books, and an archive list. That's it. It's basic for a reason ... Apple's rules force it to be like that.
Sony tried to play fast and loose with the idea of 'in app purchases' and got burned by a well-established Apple rule. Amazon's Kindle app on the other hand plays by the rules, making sure that all purchasing happens outside of the app.
Pretty simple really.