I’m sure this isn’t the final chapter of the story, but it’s sounding like e-books on Apple’s iPad are staying on Apple’s iPad. Actually, it’s probably not as bleak a situation as that. My instincts tell me that content from the iBook store will likely work on other Apple hardware as well — the iPhone, iPod touch and Mac OS X computers — but when? I’m assuming there will be an iBooks application supported on those devices at some point. So, why does it look like the plot is heading in this direction? Adobe told Computerworld that Apple isn’t planning on using Adobe’s Digital Rights Management system for e-book content, even though Apple is going to use the widely recognized EPUB standard for books.
For several years, Apple has protected digital content purchases with its FairPlay DRM and it shouldn’t be a surprise for Apple to use it for e-books as well. FairPlay is the method used to ensure that purchased iTunes content plays back only on authorized computers, which are tied to your iTunes account. Apple does currently allow that content on Microsoft Windows computers through iTunes, but the Windows version of iTunes hit after the one for Mac — nearly 2.5 years after the first iTunes release. That certainly doesn’t mean Apple will keep iBooks content on its own hardware for years, but there’s also no guarantee that Windows devices will support iBooks content out of the gate. And in an effort to sell more iPads, it certainly makes sense to allow the content exclusively on the iPad first. Adding support for other Apple hardware and then following with Windows compatibility would be a wise business plan — and one typical for the Cupertino company.
Another factor at play is Apple not wanting to give Adobe any power in the ecosystem. That’s evident by the refusal to allow or support Adobe’s Flash on the iPhone. It’s estimated that Adobe’s Flash plugin is installed on over 95 percent of all computer browsers and that’s precisely the type of strength and presence for which Apple doesn’t allow. There’s only room for one company in the Apple ecosystem, and that’s Apple. It’s one of the few organizations that wants to control the hardware and the software for the entire experience, as exemplified by the development of the iPad’s A4 CPU. Why be dependent on other chipmakers and generic designs when you can optimize the experience by creating your own CPU? With that approach in mind, it’s no wonder that Apple is spurning Adobe’s presence in iBooks.
So how is this potential situation any different than, say, Amazon’s Kindle? For a while after the device’s introduction, Kindle content was only viewable on a Kindle. Eventually, Amazon released reader applications for the iPhone, PC, Mac and — just today — the BlackBerry platform. A Kindle for Mac version is “coming soon.” The difference is that Amazon is primarily a seller of content in this market, while Apple sells both content and hardware. Sure, Amazon sells the Kindle hardware, too, but it’s a safe bet that far more revenue comes from the Kindle content than the Kindle hardware. Another difference: Apple offers a more complete ecosystem in iTunes. Like Amazon, Apple sells — or will sell — e-books, music, and videos. But the shopping experience is more contained and grouped in Apple’s world. In Amazon’s store, it’s more like walking past several aisles of other items before you see what you need. It’s just not as holistic an experience.
The final chapter is yet to be written, of course. Apple hasn’t shared the DRM approach for iBooks just yet, so it could surprise us with a more open-than-expected approach. But Adobe won’t be surprised — nor should it be, based on history.
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