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Despite Apple’s subscription rules, Kindle remains in App Store

by Phil Hornshaw

It was a game of chicken that lots of people in the know about the iTunes App Store had been watching – Apple versus Amazon, in a battle over e-book sales and mobile apps.

The reason the two giants, one in computers and the other in online retail, are staring each other down has to do with the iOS Kindle app (still) found in the App Store. Amazon’s app technically doesn’t follow the content subscription rules that Apple instated a few months back and has amended since then. Apple has said that any app not following the rules will be removed from the App Store, but Kindle (and others like it) remain at large and fully available for download.

Apple altered the rules significantly for apps that distribute paid content back in June. Originally, when the subscription rules were rolled out in February, Apple said that all companies selling content in their mobile apps must sell it through in-app purchases, and they must sell it at an equal or lesser price as compared to other places the content is available. In the case of Amazon, that meant Kindle had to sell e-books through an in-app purchase on the iOS app, and those books had to cost the same or even less than e-books bought on itself. Kindle could still bring in content from the Amazon store, but the in-app purchase had to be the most convenient option.

Oh, and Apple takes 30 percent off the top for every in-app purchase.

Not long ago and after a whole lot of outrage, Apple backed off the in-app purchase rule, and instead reworked its App Store policies to remove the requirement. Instead, apps that sell content simply can’t link to outside stores to sell that content, but they’re not required to offer an in-app purchase or to cut in Apple. For Amazon, that means Kindle can’t include a button that links back to Amazon’s web store, where e-books can be purchased for the app. Apple threatened to kick out any app that broke the rules.

June 30 was the deadline for all apps to be in line with Apple’s requirements – but, whoops, Kindle and a number of other apps haven’t changed. Kindle still links to the Amazon e-book store and includes no in-app purchase, and it’s now July 1. So where’s Apple? Did the two companies reach some kind of deal, or as Apple unwilling to chuck such a popular app as Kindle?

Other developers begrudgingly went along with Apple’s rules, and some, before the big change, even left the App Store over them. One of the highest profile apps to be changed to appease Apple was Hulu, the TV-streaming service. Hulu removed the link to the company’s website from its iPad app, where users could buy subscriptions to the Hulu Plus premium package.

With Kindle and others refusing to work with Apple’s rules, or having made a deal with Apple, one wonders if apps that did follow the rules, like Hulu, might try to change back. Both Apple and Amazon have been mum on the subject of the Kindle app on June 30, so we’ll have to see what the day brings and whether Apple really plans to enforce its subscription rules.