Today’s Kobo update: proof that Apple isn’t going after ebook apps

Today everyone in ebookland (hold on, must check if that domain is registered… yep) is spazzing out about Apple and Sony, because Sony submitted a Sony Reader ebook app, similar to the Kindle, Nook and Kobo apps already on the store, and Apple rejected it. Both Sony and Apple are being a little vague on what’s going on, but there’s just enough talk about restrictions and in-app purchases to make it sound like Apple is planning on taking a bite out of all ebook sales from every retailer.

But based on today’s Kobo update, which managed to hit the store with its in-app browsing intact, I suspect this is mostly a false alarm.

The backstory: Apple cracks down on alternative purchase methods

The Monday Note has a good overview on Apple’s new-ish policy, which is technically actually an old policy that Apple has decided to enforce more stringently in 2011. The specific guideline states:

11.2 Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected

That’s very clear — but then Apple confused the issue today regarding the Sony app when its spokesperson told Ars Technica, “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.”

What? That would mean every other ebook app out there would have to start offering true In App Purchase functionality, meaning Apple would take a 30% cut, meaning either price hikes or pulled apps.

How did the other app from today’s news cycle escape Apple’s clutches?

However, nobody is talking today about the new Kobo app update that hit the Apple App Store this morning. It was not rejected, it came out today, and it duplicates the functionality of the Kobo app for the iPad — meaning it includes a built-in “store” for browsing only, and when you’re ready to make your purchase you must leave the app and visit the website. In fact, it actually provides a lot more in-app functionality for browsing its store than the Kindle app. Here are some screen shots of the updated app from today:

So how do we reconcile this with what Sony is saying? Sony might be intentionally stirring up trouble to get itself some publicity, and to try to put public pressure on Apple to loosen its business model. (Good luck with that.) Apple might indeed be planning a major assault on all ebook apps, which would be a bad development for everyone except Apple.

However, Apple told the New York Times today that “it was still allowing customers to access purchases they made elsewhere within apps,” which would mean the Kindle and Nook apps are still safe.

Based on that, and considering the Kobo update got through the approval process just fine, I’m going to hold off on any calls for panic or outrage for now and assume that Sony was trying to implement its own in-app purchasing system, which has been clearly forbidden by Apple from pretty much the beginning.

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