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The curious case of Amazon.com's iOS apps

Screenshot of Audible app

There has been a lot of conversation about changes that Amazon has made to the Comixology app. Specifically, the company removed the customer's ability to buy comics through the app.

On this week's Back to Work, Dan and Merlin talked about how the App Store rules make the it so that Comixology cannot even link to its own store from Comixology comics. Before now, if you finished one issue of a comic, the last panel would ask if you wanted to buy the next issue (if available) or other related content. Now it's just blank. Similarly, Kindle books cannot be purchased through the Kindle app, nor can a book in a series suggest that you might want to read the next one.

Turns out that's not the weirdest thing that Amazon has done when it comes to dealing with the iOS App Store restrictions. That hönor goes to the Audible.com app for iOS. It has an entire tab called "More Books" that leads to...nothing. Well, there's the text you see above:

More Books

Audible is home to a vast catalog - you'll find bestsellers, sci-fi, romance, classics, human, and more.

Five navigation tabs at the bottom of the app, and one of them is basically empty.

It was obvious to me that this was empty because of the same App Store restrictions, but I was curious to see what Audible support would say about this, so I emailed them and asked them about the purpose of the "More Books" tab.

Here's the reply I received (emphasis mine):

The "More Books" feature is just a placeholder for now, as the option to purchase a book through the app is currently not available. To be able to get new books within the Audible app, you have to purchase them on the Audible website. You can purchase Audible titles by opening the mobile web browser on your iPhone/iPad and going to audible.com.

To access our Mobile Store on your device:

1) Please tap the Safari icon on your iPad.

2) Please tap the address bar and enter www.audible.com.

3) Tap "GO" and you're off to the Audible Store

If Amazon had made this decision strictly for the purposes of making Apple look bad, a customer email would have been the perfect opportunity to say something like "the option to purchase a book through the app is currently not available due to Apple's restrictive policies" or something like that. If Amazon had made this decision to hurt iOS and make Android look better, this would have been the perfect opportunity to say "Well, you can't do this on iOS because of Apple, but if you bought a Kindle Fire or Android tablet, then you could!"

Instead, all I got was "the option to purchase a book through the app is currently not available" which is about as generic and bland of a response as you could get. If you know the history and the policies behind this situation, then you'll understand why, but leaving that mostly-blank tab in the Audible.com app still seems like a really weird decision to me.

Episode 63 of the Accidental Tech Podcast also had an extended discussion of the Comixology/in-app purchasing situation. John Siracusa argued that Apple needs to try to make a deal with Amazon because the experience of buying Kindle and Comixology (and Audible, although it wasn't mentioned explicitly) is worse on iOS and reduces customer satisfaction with the platform. Marco Arment made a counter-argument that Apple doesn't need to address this because people are angry at Amazon/Comixology, not Apple. The episode was a good overview of the various issues around this topic.

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