Did Apple Just Neuter iPad Ebook Apps? (Update: Sorta!)S

Do you remember when everybody was worried what Apple's iBookstore meant for apps like Amazon's Kindle? The undercurrent of dread Apple would kneecap competing ebook stores the way it does iTunes competitors? Well, those fears may have come true. Updated.

Update: So Apple's finally offered some comment on the situation with blocking Sony's Reader app:

We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines... 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.

So the guidelines themselves haven't changed, but Apple is apparently now enforcing a rule that it sort of wasn't. Which sounds like Amazon and others will have to allow you to buy books inside of the app—giving Apple a 30 percent cut of the proceeds in the process. Currently, most ebook apps open Safari to let you purchase books.

Original post:

Sony has told the New York Times that Apple blocked their Reader app, which would let users read their Sony books on iOS devices. Not for a weird reason like private API use, but according to Sony's digital reading president Steve Haber, Apple is mandating that "all in-app purchases" go through Apple.

While there could be more here than Sony lets on, what the Times spells out is disturbing:

The company has told some applications developers, including Sony, that they can no longer sell content, like e-books, within their apps, or let customers have access to purchases they have made outside the App Store.

(Emphasis mine. That's the part that's scary—you've never been able to buy things like Kindle books from Amazon's store inside of the apps themselves, but you have been able to access books you bought outside of the App Store.)

That's the nuclear option. If Apple follows through on this line, that means no more Kindle books, no Nook books, no content from third-party magazine apps like Zinio, and more. It would break half the reason I want an iPad—to read books from any source I want, like Kindle. Blocking stuff I buy from other services that I used to be able to read on an iPad won't make me buy iBooks or other content from Apple; it'll push me elsewhere. And it's just desperate.

Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, Kobo and Zinio are all still in the App Store. So hopefully there's more to this than Sony's letting on, but Apple's "no comment" to the NYT on the matter isn't terribly helpful. [NYT]