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Internal Emails Reveal Steve Jobs Blocked In-App Purchases of Kindle Books on iOS Devices

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Internal Apple emails have revealed revealed information about why the Cupertino company blocked in-app purchases of Kindle books on iOS devices.

Yesterday, a handful of big tech CEOs testified as part of a probe into antitrust behavior. Now, thanks to Congress, emails released to the government as part of that investigation are coming to light and revealing some interesting things.

The Verge reports that the emails submitted to Congress regarding the antitrust probe have revealed what appears to be the gestation of Apple’s idea to limit digital book sales on iPhones, with the sole intent being that Apple’s first-party option is the go-to resource for users.

One such email back from November 2010 between Steve Jobs, Phil Schiller, and Eddy Cue shows the decision taken by Jobs then that still limits Kindle from selling Kindle books through the Kindle app on the App Store. In the email, Jobs makes it clear that Amazon must accept the App Store payment mechanism and fees or otherwise “bow out.”

The catalyst for this discussion were Kindle ads that Amazon was running on TV at that time. One of the ads showed a woman purchasing a Kindle book on her iPhone and then switching to an Android device where she continued reading it. This ticked off Schiller who said it was “not fun to watch:”

I just watched a new Amazon Kindle app ad on TV. It starts with a woman using an iPhone and buying and reading books with the Kindle app. The woman then switches to an Android phone and still can read all her books. While the primary message is that there are Kindle apps on lots of mobile devices, the secondary message that can’t be missed is that it is easy to switch from iPhone to Android. Not fun to watch.

In a separate email, Schiller said:

I do think that we should tell Amazon that based on their own TV ads it is clear that the use of their App now violates our terms and guidelines and that they need to use our In App Purchase system for digital book sales as well. We should ask them to come back to us with a plan on how they will get their app in compliance with the rules. Based on our past discussions, I expect they will may choose not do do that. We would then likely have to decide whether to pull the Kindle app from the store or continue to allow an exception to our terms and guidelines for the Kindle app.

In another email thread from around the same time, the executives discuss the need for new subscription policies for the App Store. Jobs confirms in the email thread clearly that iBooks will be the only bookstore on iOS devices, and that while users can read books purchased from elsewhere, publishers cannot do so on an iPhone without paying Apple its commission:

I think this is all pretty simple — iBooks is going to be the only bookstore on iOS devices. We need to hold our heads high. One can read books bought elsewhere, just not buy/rent/subscribe from iOS without paying us, which we acknowledge is prohibitive for many things” – Jobs said in one of the emails.

As the hearing proceeds further, we are bound to get our hands on more internal documents that should provide even more insight into various decisions related to the App Store taken by Apple over the years.

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