It appears that Apple has finally decided to start forcing apps to abide by its new in-app purchase and subscription rules that became enforceable at the start of this month. It appears that the first big casualties will be the Wall Street Journal and Kobo apps. The Wall Street Journal has reported that their apps will soon remove all purchasing options from their apps and Kobo, the Canadian e-Book retailer, has already done something similar. Both apps had been linking users to their website to purchase subscription content which had been forbidden in Apple’s new rules, as detailed below.
Apps that link to external mechanisms for purchasing content to be used in the app, such as a “buy” button that goes to a web site to purchase a digital book, will be rejected.
Neither app has or had been rejected, instead Apple seems to have opted to talk directly with Kobo and News Corporation, as both have or will soon be updating their apps to remove the offending links. Curiously both apps will not be using Apple’s own in-app purchasing system to allow users to purchase content or subscriptions. Both firms still feel as though the terms are too onerous, despite Apple relaxing the restrictions in June to allow content to be sold through the in-app purchasing at a different price. Previously the rules were going to require all subscription content to be available for purchase through the in-app system and at the same or lower price (despite Apple’s required 30% cut).
Kobo’s Mr. Serbinis said to the Wall Street Journal that roughly 50% of their iOS app users already bought content through their website, but that this change “will inconvenience those customers accustomed to buying their books directly from our apps on Apple devices”. Similarly, a News Corp spokeswoman said “We remain concerned that Apple’s own subscription [rules] would create a poor experience for our readers, who would not be able to directly manage their WSJ account or to easily access our content across multiple platforms”. Both companies seem reluctant to offer in-app purchases and cede 30% of revenues to Apple, despite even being allowed to charge customers more if purchasing in this method. It follows other publishers such as The New York Times and various Conde Naste magazines, which have embraced Apple’s in-app subscriptions and purchases.
Last Friday there was news that a number of independent developers for the iPhone and iPad had received legal warnings that they were violating patents that Lodsys owned. Suffice to say it sparked an outcry from developers, users and commentators; few had anything nice to say of Lodsys. Well today they have responded to a number of criticisms on their website in a series of Q&A posts. The key patent in question was that of Dan Abelow who sold his portfolio of patents to Lodsys back in 2004.
Its first response was in regards to the fairly frequented notion that Lodsys is a “parasite, troll, should die etc.”, they respond to this in saying that they are just like any other company who sells a product or service – they try to “get value for the assets it owns”. They write in the post “threats and irrationality don’t help. In particular, the death threats are seriously uncool.”
As for the question of the patents being “too broad”, Lodsys notes how easy it is too look back in hindsight, saying “of course this is how everyone is going to do it”. In response to patent licensing being unethical and similar questions, they say that it seeks an economic return to sell their patent assets, completely legal and furthermore citing the notion that patent licensing encourages future invention.
As for why they directly contacted developers and not Apple, they say it is because Apple (as well as Microsoft and Google) has already licensed the patents in question. They claim that they cannot provide the third party developers with the rights to the patent, and Apple hasn’t approached Lodsys for the purpose of attaining an eco-system-wide license for the patents. They say their goal is not to prevent developers from using the technology, rather that it is to popularize it and charge a relatively small license for it.
They claim in multiple areas that they specialise in efficiently selling rights to patents, they say that by having a consistent price model it also means independent developers aren’t unfairly disadvantaged.
As for how much developers will need to pay, Lodsys clarifies that the in-app purchasing mechanism for example would cost a developer 0.575% of their US revenue over the period the technology was implemented until the patent expires. It gives an example of an app that earns US$1 million in one year would pay US$5,750.
If you recall, last week we reported on a request from four US Senators that Apple remove apps that warn and alert users of where DUI (driving under the influence) checkpoints are. Well the Association for Competitive Technology, a group of thousands of independent software developers has responded to this request by the Senators and objected to the reasoning of the claims.
Rebutting the contention that the apps are “harmful to public safety”, the group’s president, Jonathan Zuck, said that the concerns raised are actually “in conflict with the public interest on the issue of traffic safety.” Citing the National Highway Safety Administration, he goes on to say that heightened awareness of DUI checkpoints acts as a deterrent to illegal behaviour and that “several of the apps in question have received particular commendation from the law enforcement community.”
Furthermore some of the apps in question, including PhantomALERT (which is part of the A.C.T. group) and Trapster use data from the public domain – some of which is required by law to be published, this data will continue to live on regardless of whether some smartphone apps are pulled. Meanwhile, RIM last week removed PhantomALERT from it’s app store and was applauded by the Senators who issued a statement saying “Drunk drivers will soon have one less tool to evade law enforcement and endanger our friends and families. We appreciate RIM’s immediate reply and urge the other smartphone makers to quickly follow suit.” Jump the break for the A.C.T. group’s full response to the Senator’s request.
A group of four US senators have called on Apple to remove apps from its App Store that warn and alert users of where DUI (driving under the influence) checkpoints are. In a letter addressed to Scott Forstall, Apple’s senior vice president of iPhone software, the four US senators which includes Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Frank Lautenberg and Tom Udall convey their “grave concern” over the apps which are “harmful to public safety.”
The letter doesn’t name any specific apps but takes at aim at those which “allow customers to identify where local police officers have set up DUI checkpoints” and citing a police officer asks “what other purpose are they going to use them for except to drink and drive?” The App Store does indeed include numerous apps that have DUI checkpoint databases, some of which are free and some of which are paid and many feature crowd-sourced information gathering on the location of the DUI checkpoints.
The senators end their letter stating “We appreciate the technology that has allowed millions of Americans to have information at their fingertips, but giving drunk drivers a free tool to evade checkpoints, putting innocent families and children at risk, is a matter of public concern.” Currently the App Store Guidelines only state that apps cannot “encourage excessive consumption of alcohol or illegal substances, or encourage minors to consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes” – there is no mention of such police or DUI checkpoint evasion apps.
CNet contacted Apple for comment but received no comment at the time of publication. For the full letter from the senators, jump the break.
A recent update to the popular MobileRSS application was inappropriate. It appeared to be an almost identical one-to-one clone of another application: Reeder.
Inspiration and imitation are a natural part of competition, especially in a market as tight as news readers. But in this case, I personally felt that MobileRSS went too far. As a solo developer, I rely on app sales to support myself. A lot of other iOS developers do the same, including Reeder. We simply don’t do things like this to each other.
As a result, I have decided to disable MobileRSS’s API key for the time being. This is not an app that I would like ReadItLater to be a part of in its current form.
Nate Weiner of Read It Later condemns MobileRSS because they’ve blatanently ripped off Reeder’s unique user interface, but at the same time offers his apologies to his customers who use MobileRSS as their utility of choice. While he regrets disabling a major function of MobileRSS, Nate honorably offers to offset the cost of this inconvenience if his customers feel their service has been disrupted. It’s a shame that a developer in our own community has had to take such a stance thanks to the actions of another, but good on Read It Later for stepping up and simply saying, “No.”
After speaking with a number of other developers, including Silvio from Reeder, I’ve decided that the best thing to do is re-enable MobileRSS’s API key. The developers who made MobileRSS have a number of other apps with Read it Later support (on Twitter, iPhone and iPad). I’ve discovered that all of these apps use the same API key so disabling it unfairly affects an enormous number of innocent Read It Later users using the developer’s other apps.
While the intentions were good morally, business is business. Ultimately I agree that it’s up to the end user to decide whether or not to support an application that has unfairly (and blatantly) copied the user interface of a competitor, though I applaud Read It Later for bringing awareness to the situation. I find it interesting that Silvio Rizzi of Reeder understood the financial implications and felt that such a damaging proposition was unfair. Undoubtedly the developers of MobileRSS have enough to deal with considering this afternoon’s lash out against the company.
When I look at websites like TUAW, The Apple Blog, Macgasm, or a site such as ourselves that talks about the well being of the developer community, I expect all of us to be role models for others to follow and an avenue for developer success.