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Of In-App Purchases and Inept Analysis

The big news of the day, which has the Apple echo-chamber’s collective panties in a twist is the news that Sony’s eReader app for iOS was rejected by Apple. The reason for the rejection, as relayed to the media by Sony was, “from now on, all in-app purchases would have to go through Apple.”

We don’t know exactly how Sony was handling in-app purchases. The predominant speculation is that Sony was using some sort of link to their web-store similar in fashion to the current Kindle app on iOS (although, as Christina Warren of Mashable has pointed out, there is no way to actually purchase a book via Sony’s web front-end ).

Attempting to clarify the situation, Apple reached out to the media. Quoting The Loop:

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.”

The Apple media has, for the most part, chosen to interpret this statement to mean that any app that accesses content available from an outside store will be required to offer the same content via in-app purchase or face expulsion from the App Store. I believe that analysis is flawed.

Before laying out my logic, let me state that I have no special knowledge here. I’m working off of the exact same set of fact that the rest of the media is, but I’ve come to a much different conclusion.

The crux of my interpretation of Apple’s statement hinges on this phrase from the Apple statement, “…if an app offers…” My interpretation of that phrase is that Apple is requiring apps that contain, within the app, a link to a non-Apple storefront or payment system also support in-app purchase for the same content. Note that the statement says nothing about apps that merely read content that might have been purchased from a non-Apple store. Think about it. By the logic that the majority of the blogosphere has adopted, any app that accesses outside content may fall afoul of the guidelines, since any content might be monetized.

My suspicion is that, assuming Sony wasn’t doing something utterly stupid link including an embedded store, the problematic action here is including a link to a storefront. By that logic, all Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Zinio and company have to do is to remove the link and let people find their web stores on their own.

Reinforcing my belief that this is the correct interpretation is the fact that all of the statements from Apple regarding this issue, and all of the previous chatter about publisher’s conflicts with Apple regarding subscription services that I have heard has referred to purchasing or subscribing within the app.

Until we see some actual action here, something like the Kindle app being pulled from the app store, I think it’s premature to assume that Apple is willing to abandon iPad sales to rabid Amazon customers over the paltry sum that they’d get in eBook revenue.