Apple recently tightened control of its app store by enforcing a hard-nosed rule preventing application developers from selling products within their own apps without paying 30% of the proceeds. All e-book publishers, for instance, must, in effect, hand over 30% of their earnings, or be banished to the world of Web applications. There have been grumblings by publishers about developing Web-only experiences, but I?m hoping Apple's latest move will motivate them to do just that.
As a result of enforcing the 30% cut, Amazon and others have had to remove their in-app purchase button. The new flow will go like this: Customers will download an Amazon e-book app, and upon opening it, will realize that it's empty. They must then close the app, browse Amazon's inventory, and make an app purchase in Safari, open Amazon's app, and then, and only then, read the content they've downloaded. The old setup allowed for a one-button click to browse Amazon's inventory, purchase, and read within the Amazon app.
Apple's strict guidelines will force a fantastic change in app development.
Apple may have had the leverage to muscle companies, but its strict guidelines will force a fantastic change in native app development vs. Web app development. (For those who don't know, native apps are downloaded from the App store; Web apps are simply applications or websites that are functional via the phone's Safari browser.) Since the 30% cut will not be enforced for purchases made on the Web, there may be strong impetus for companies to start avoiding native apps and stores almost altogether and focus their energy on Web apps instead. Thus far, companies have resisted putting all of their eggs in the mobile Web dev basket, because they see results with native apps and assume that native apps provide a better experience.
Here's the opportunity for companies like Amazon: They can seize the moment and retrain their audiences to use their mobile Web presence exclusively. And with HTML5 and other approaches, customers can have as great an experience in Safari as they can with a native app. The entire native Amazon app can be redesigned for mobile Web. If users still need an offline experience (on a plane, for instance), they can still open their native app for reading. But everything else? Web-based.
This resetting of customer expectations is difficult if not Herculean. Apple has done a masterful job of making app purchasing dirt simple and for some, like me, an addictive habit. With their backs to the wall, however, companies will have to take a much closer look at designing their Web experiences to satisfy rich mobile application needs. And I?m sure Google will have no problem assisting them with this challenge.