When Apple’s iPad goes on sale in a few weeks, its iBookstore will have a distinct user-experience advantage over e-book competitors like Amazon’s Kindle App.
That is, the iBookstore will let you seamlessly buy books from within the iBooks reader app, with the iTunes account it’s already aware of.
Meanwhile, rivals like the Kindle app and Barnes & Noble e-reader will require you to boot up their apps, then click a button to boot up the iPad’s Web browser, shop for e-books in a Web store, sign in and pay with a non-iTunes account, relaunch the e-reader app, and sync up your new e-book. Not as elegant.
It’s not a huge difference, but it’s the kind of small simplicity advantage that has helped Apple’s iTunes music store maintain a lead over its rivals, including Amazon.
People who use the Kindle app on their iPhones today will know that this isn’t a new thing: Since the Kindle iPhone app launched last March, users have had to leave the app to buy e-books.
Amazon didn’t built the app this way from the beginning. We have learned that when Amazon first submitted its Kindle application for the iPhone to Apple, Amazon included its own payment system within the app, so customers could just pay for e-books and download them right in the app.
When Apple spotted the payment system, it told Amazon to get rid of it, according to a source familiar with Amazon’s operations.
Why? It’s a rule Apple smartly instituted at the App Store’s beginning, forbidding third-party e-commerce of digital goods within apps.
That is, it’s OK to use an iPhone app to buy physical goods — as you can in Amazon’s main iPhone app, or the Fandango app, etc. And developers are welcome to use Apple’s in-app purchasing system — and give a 30% cut of revenue to Apple — to sell digital goods within apps.
But Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other vendors are prohibited from using their own e-commerce systems within apps for virtual goods. Thus the trip to the Safari browser to buy books.
It’s obviously a rule Apple itself is allowed to break — it’s Apple’s iPhone, and it can do whatever it wants, as we’ve seen recently with Apple’s recent raids on thousands of sexy apps. But it does put competitors like Amazon on uneven footing.
Obviously, Amazon is never going to want to give Apple a 30% cut of e-book sales, so it’s not going to implement Apple’s in-app purchasing system. So it’s indefinitely stuck sending its customers into the browser to make purchases. (Meanwhile, on the new BlackBerry Kindle app, you can buy e-books directly within the app.)
Assuming the iBooks app and the iBookstore have similar selection, pricing, and e-reader features, this one simple step could give Apple a substantial advantage over Amazon.