CategoryTechnology

Kindle/Apple?

Sony says Apple rejected their Sony Reader app on the grounds that all purchases on the iPad must go through the App Store. I don’t care that much about Sony on a practical level, but the implication is that the Kindle app is likewise in trouble, since it allows me to buy a book via the Amazon web site and download it to my iPad. If that’s no longer allowed, I’d be fairly annoyed.

On the other hand, the Kindle app pushes you over to Safari to make the purchase. It isn’t clear if the Sony Reader app did the same thing. The Sony Bookstore is not available on the Web; if you click on the “Want this eBook?” link on a Sony Bookstore page you’re instructed to download the Reader. I’m guessing that Sony didn’t implement a secret Web purchase page for the sake of the iPad.

The New York Times is not citing Apple sources in their reporting. There’s one troublesome line: “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.” At face value, that would imply that the Kindle likewise violates the rules. But Sony has an interest in making Apple look like they’re being unreasonable, and we don’t even know if Sony was the source for that information.

Clause 11.2 of the current App Store guidelines (PDF) says “Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected.” Key words are “in an app.” Safari is an app; I think a strict reading of those terms would rule out the way Amazon’s doing it as well. On the other hand, a strict reading of those terms would rule out any ecommerce. It could be better written. Possibly the intent is that it be read as “for an app.” Either way, there’s room for rejecting the Kindle app, and of course Apple reserves the right to do whatever for whatever reason.

Given the upcoming subscription feature launch, it wouldn’t surprise me if Apple’s reevaluating its stance on paid content for iPad apps. It would surprise me somewhat if they decided to tighten the screws on Amazon, and it would disappoint me, but it’s certainly possible. Check back in a month or so, I guess.

Oh, and a side note: the reason Kindle beats the crap out of the Apple iBookstore? Authors can’t link to the Apple iBookstore on their Web pages. I can’t buy while I’m sitting at my computer and push the book to my iPad. I gotta drag out the iPad, search, blah blah blah. Surprisingly bad design decision on Apple’s part. Killing the Kindle app (and presumably other ebook apps like the Nook app and perhaps Stanza) would really hurt the iPad as a book reader.

More on Evernote

The CEO of Evernote posted a followup on their Mac App Store numbers. Convenient; I was wishing they would today. The rush of new Mac users tailed off quite a bit but it’s still a big percentage. He’s gone from thinking that mobile usage drives Evernote to believing that “the presence of a well-formed app store is the single most important factor for the viability of a platform for third party developers.”

I wish he’d talk about the percentages of users he’s getting from iOS vs. Android. It’s a free app on both platforms. Apple people like to critique the Android App Store for being junky, having low app size limits, and so on, but I’d rather see some actual numbers there.

Google and Video

Google hates H.264! H.264 is used almost everywhere, not just for Web video; it’s also the Blu-Ray encoding standard. So this is very exciting.

Despite my knee-jerk pro-Apple response, I believe that Google is correct in stating that WebM is the better political choice for Web standards. It is open in the sense that there’s no licensing fee and Google has no ability to institute one. It is not an open standard insofar as the standard does not belong to an impartial standards body, which is slightly problematic, but practically speaking it’s not a huge deal. H.264 does, FWIW, belong to such a body. But it’s not free to license, and that is again the more important issue.

WebM may not be the better choice from a legal point of view, in that we don’t know if it’s encumbered by patents. It would be nice if Google would indemnify people using WebM from patent lawsuits, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to require them to do so. Google doesn’t have to do your legal work for you, even if it would be nice if they did. Anyhow, I am not competent to have an opinion on the legal issues, so “we don’t know.” If I needed to make a corporate decision about this I’d pay for a lawyer to tell me things.

Technically speaking I don’t care. Web video is not the place where I demand top-notch video quality. H.264 might be better; even if it is, it’s not going to matter 99% of the time.

Now the fun part. Google’s stance, while correct, is in direct conflict with their Flash support. Google’s statement: “Adobe Flash Player is the most widely used web browser plug-in. It enables a wide range of applications and content on the Internet, from games, to video, to enterprise apps.” So, yes, this is true. Likewise, H.264 is the most widely used Web video format, which enables a wide range of video on the Internet. You’re either making decisions based on usage or not.

Which makes me suspect that Google is, with WebM, making the right decision for the wrong reasons. This only makes me about 50% happy.

Edit: this post makes the excellent point that Flash does share one key characteristic with WebM: namely, it’s free to distribute. However, Adobe has not to my knowledge guaranteed this in perpetuity.

Mac App Store

I tried it out; it does what you’d expect. But here’s the ridiculous news, which is best summarized by the following graph. Since the Mac App Store launch, more than half of Evernote’s new users have come from the Mac, compared to a minuscule percentage before the launch.

Evernote new user graph

I mean, it’s the first weekend, and I’m sure it’ll level out. But man.

eBooks and Agents

Two interesting ebook questions: when will publishers get around to releasing the backlist as ebooks, and who will be the quality gatekeepers in a world of self-publishing? You may think the second question is a moot point, and can be answered by some form of collective criticism, aka Metafilter, but I’m going to throw out some relevant news anyhow.

As I understand it, part of the problem with the first question is that publishers don’t own the ebook rights to their backlist. It wasn’t part of the standard contract back in the dark ages of the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s. This means authors can do it themselves, if they like. Please take a moment to read this post from John Scalzi before continuing.

This summer, literary agent Andrew Wylie realized that he had a bunch of clients who had great backlists which could be profitably released as ebooks without the added cost of involving a publisher. We’re talking people like John Updike, who do not need as much marketing for their backlist as others. So he tried that. Alas, it did not work out entirely well.

However, the (primarily) SF&F agency JABberwocky recently did the same thing. So that’s kind of interesting.

Google Chrome OS Quick Reactions

I’m certainly going to want to run it somewhere. I mean, hey, new toy.

They’re talking a lot about the cloud; they’re not talking very much about the implications of what’s essentially a client OS. Will the cloud software be open source? If not, you’re awfully limited: it checks the signature of your OS every time you boot it. Can’t do much hacking that way.

Also, custom firmware. Everyone who’s been bitching about the iPhone as a closed system should be paying close attention to this. In some ways this is tighter than the iPhone; an iPhone doesn’t check the cloud to see if it’s been hacked every time it boots up.

OK, you can download Chrome OS for your machine regardless, but there will also be finetuned Chrome OS devices. I’ll be curious about such details as performance differences.

Probably edits to come after the Q&A. Surely someone will ask about open sourcing the cloud.

iPhone eBooks

eBooks on the iPhone are pretty obvious; I’ve been keeping an eye out for a good reader. Here’s the first cut: Stanza (App Store link).

The key is being able to download your own books, which Stanza allows. Grab Stanza Desktop and load your books into there, then select Enable Sharing from the Tools menu and fire up the iPhone Stanza app. Shared Books -> Books on Macintosh displays the list of currently open books in Stanza Desktop. Select the ones you want, and there you go.

(Helpful hint: go back to the Mac to tell Stanza Desktop that it’s OK for the iPhone to connect. I couldn’t figure out why the iPhone app was hanging at first.)

Stanza Desktop supports a nice list of file types, including Open eBook, Kindle, Mobipocket, HTML, PDF, LIT, PalmDoc, RTF, and Word. It does not support Sony Reader or PDF files. Good enough for my purposes but not perfect.

The iPhone UI could use a little polish but it’s very functional. I’m happy for the nonce. The apps are currently free; the web site says the Desktop will cost something once it’s out of beta.

World Changes Again

Amazon now has a Print on Demand service. The pricing is a bit more complex than the competition (namely, Lulu), but everything gets an ISBN and you can publish into Amazon. Which is pretty huge.

I don’t think this is a Lulu killer, but it’ll definitely be competition, which hopefully will spur both companies to improve.

The darker side

Conversely, the PC software for the Sony Reader absolutely sucks. It looks remarkably like someone was hired to clone iTunes, and did so without ever understanding the ways in which iTunes is good and bad.

You can’t drag content directly onto the Reader; you have to copy it into the Library, then copy it from there to the Reader. The interface is custom and non-standard — the menus don’t look like Windows menus, and the dialog boxes aren’t Windows dialog boxes. The Preferences dialog box has one option: “Check for updates automatically”. If you sort a list of books by author, it’s sorted by first name rather than last name. The Status window doesn’t tell you the titles of the books which are being converted/added. You can’t create new collections (playlists) directly on the Reader; you have to create them in the Library and move them over.

The Store is its own category of awful. The front page doesn’t give you a link to new releases. When you do get to the New Releases page, there are no dates next to the titles. There’s no RSS feed for new books, either. You can’t use the mouse wheel to scroll through lists of titles. The Browse Categories page has a list of categories and subcategories; in most cases, there are no actual books in the main categories. You have to go to the subcategories to see books… but you can’t click through to the subcategories from the Browse Categories page. You have to click to the category page, then to the subcategory page. There’s no way to indicate your interest in a book you’d like to see in the store.

I could go on. But it’s a pretty grotesque interface. Fortunately I still love the Reader a lot.

Bits of bits

The MacHeist thingiemabob is coming to an end. In this case, thingiemabob is defined as “a big publicity/marketing event for small Mac developers.” The salient information is that you can get a bundle of nine applications for $49.

Of the apps in the bundle, I find Delicious Library and Newsfire to be fairly significant; that’s DVD/book/game cataloging and a very good RSS newsreader. There’s also a personal information manager, an OS level skinning application, a game of your choice, an HTML authoring program, etc. Check out the list for yourself.

I am being fairly self-interested about this; if they raise $100K for charity, TextMate will be unlocked, and I like text editors. 25% of the purchase price is going to charity, and they’re just over $50K right now, so another four thousand purchases would do the trick.

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