Gatekeeping the iPad: Apple Being Shrewd About What Will Appear at Launch

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How do you control what will and won’t appear on your brand new platform on launch day if you’re Apple, without outright banning apps in a way that might invite accusations of attempting to start a monopoly? If it’s the e-book market you’re after, apparently all you have to do is limit pre-release device access.

Amazon was not one of the select few companies that got access to pre-launch hardware with regards to iPad development. Neither was Barnes & Noble. That honor was reserved for others, like Major League Baseball, the New York Time and the Wall Street Journal. None of which, you’ll note, directly compete for dollars with anything Apple will be offering on the platform.

Since Amazon and Barnes & Noble won’t be able to test their e-reader apps on actual iPads prior to its launch, neither will be offering the software for download on launch day. Sure, they could use the virtual iPad development tool now included with the iPad SDK, but a smooth virtual experience doesn’t necessarily guarantee the effectiveness of the real thing. Accordingly, the booksellers will wait until they can check final versions on iPads, which will only happen after the street date, before submitting iPad-specific apps to Apple.

This will give Apple a valuable head-start when it comes to selling books on the iPad. There’s almost no question that its own iBookstore will be ready for the launch, though it will only be available as a download, and not pre-loaded on devices. The B&N and Amazon iPhone apps will be available, of course, and compatible with the iPad, but they probably won’t be that appealing running in the iPad software’s shoehorned compatibility modes.

Apple needs the time it will gain as the sole iPad-specific bookseller thanks to this shrewd move. The e-book market is one of the few where it will actually be playing catch-up. Amazon in particular will have a built-in user base at launch, as owners of its Kindle devices and those who’ve already built up a library on the iPhone and computer versions of its software could well be reluctant to start again with another seller, in the same way that Canon DSLR owners generally won’t switch to Nikon camera bodies since they lose the use of all their lenses.

My guess is that since Apple is launching iBooks in the U.S. only so far, its main concern isn’t really a customer-grab from Amazon and others already in the business. I’d say Cupertino is more interested in the extremely large potential marketshare that remains in the form of people who haven’t yet gotten on the e-book bandwagon. Just like with gaming, Apple will be looking to convert casuals who adopt its platform for other reasons, and I’d be surprised if we didn’t see them become an industry leading force overnight all over again in this new arena.

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