The power of Apple
What follows is my editorial from the Winter 2011 issue of HardCopy magazine:
Just recently I discovered a couple of things that brought home to me just how much this industry is changing, and just how much Apple’s influence has grown. The first concerned Amazon’s Kindle. I have been using the Kindle eBook app for some time on my Windows Phone and, more recently, I’ve been using the Kindle itself. One thing that has impressed me is the ease with which I can browse the Kindle Store for books and ‘1-Click’ buy straight from both the device and the app. However, this experience is no longer available to owners of the Apple iPhone or iPad. This is because Apple has changed the rules governing the applications available through the iTunes App Store, explicitly prohibiting apps that have “external mechanisms for purchasing content… such as a ‘buy’ button that goes to a Web site to purchase a digital book.”
The second concerned Adobe’s announcement, made on the morning that I was writing this column, that it is abandoning further development of the Flash Player plug-in for mobile devices. Again the blame can be largely laid at Apple’s door – specifically at the open letter that Steve Jobs posted on the Apple Web site in April last year, explaining why Apple was not going to allow Flash on the iPhone or iPad, and suggesting that the future lay with HTML5.
These two things are interesting for different reasons, both revealing much about the nature of Apple as a company. In the case of the Kindle app, there are two reasons we have arrived at this situation. The first is down to a clash of business models. Apple makes money by taking a 30 per cent levy on purchases made through its App Store, and in February this year made it clear this applies not only to code but also to content, such as eBooks. Amazon, on the other hand, is a distributor. It gives away the app for free, making money by taking a proportion of the sales of the content.
The second reason is more telling. Apple has its own iBooks app, allowing you to download books from the iBookstore, and it does not want competition. What is interesting here is the contrast between the two companies. Amazon is a bookseller, and a very successful one. Yes, it does make the Kindle, but this is simply to provide another form-factor for the reader. It has not crippled the user experience of the app in order to promote sales of the hardware, instead making the app available on as wide a range of devices as possible.
Apple, on the other hand, is monolithic, keeping a tight control over the whole user experience, from the hardware through the operating system and on to the apps and the content. This has resulted in some amazing products: the Macintosh, the iPhone and the iPad. However it is very different from the approach of, for example, Microsoft, which has never ventured into PC production. Microsoft supports HTML5, but is quite happy for Adobe to deliver Flash on its platforms, leaving the market to decide which survives. Apple is not, because it wants more control.