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Apple Begins Enforcing App Store Commerce Rule

Sony's Reader app for iPhone is rejected for failing to support Apple's in-app purchasing system.

Apple has refused to approve Sony's e-book reading app, Reader for iPhone, prompting Sony to claim that Apple has changed its App Store rules. But Apple says nothing has changed.

In a note posted to Sony's Reader Store Web site, through which the company sells e-books, Sony revealed that Apple won't allow Reader for iPhone to be distributed through its App Store.

"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," the note states. "We opened a dialog with Apple to see if we can come up with an equitable resolution but reached an impasse at this time."

Apple denies that it has changed its rules. "We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines," spokesperson Trudy Miller said in an e-mailed statement. "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 problem with Sony's Reader for iPhone app, in Apple's eyes, is that it allows Sony Reader e-books to be purchased without offering a way to purchase the same content using Apple's in-app purchasing mechanism, a service for which Apple charges 30%.

Apple's App Store Review Guidelines are more restrictive than Apple's statement: "Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected." Thus, as written, it's not a matter of offering IAP whenever another app-related e-commerce option is present; IAP is technically the only allowable in-app e-commerce option.

Sony might to well to consider another Apple guideline: "If your app is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to. If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps."

Sony did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple's position raises questions about other apps that appear to violate Apple's rules. The Kindle iPhone app, for example, includes a "Kindle Store" button that launches mobile Safari and loads the Amazon Kindle Store Web page. Google's iPhone app, Google Books, also supports Web purchasing. Is Apple asserting that any app that supports e-book purchases through the Web must also include an in-app purchase option? It seems so, though such purchases, it could be argued, would occur outside an app rather than "in an app." As has been the case in the past, it all depends on how Apple chooses to interpret and enforce its rules.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While Apple's statement specifically mentions "books," its App Store Guidelines are more broad, covering any purchase related to "content, functionality, or services." In other words, any app that promotes any online purchasing "in an app" must do so through Apple's IAP mechanism. Thus, apparently alternative methods of in-app purchasing, such as OpenFeint's OFX virtual goods platform, actually rely on Apple's IAP to process transactions in order to remain complaint with Apple's rules.

Asked about the competitive implications of Apple's rules, the Federal Trade Commission declined to comment.

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