Apart from all the little features it’s swiping from Android (finally, widgets, custom keyboards, and cross-app sharing APIs!), the new iPhone OS 8 includes one little feature that Mark Coker of Smashwords believes will be a “game changer.” For the first time, iBooks will be bundled directly into every new iOS device sold.
This might not seem like a big deal at first—iBooks has, after all, been available for four years to anyone who wants to download it—but never underestimate the laziness barrier. People who weren’t that “into” e-books might never have bothered to grab it on their own, but if it was put right there in front of them they might go ahead and use it and even buy books from it. As Coker rightly points out, that’s big news for anyone who sells via the iBooks store (including, naturally, Smashwords).
But that doesn’t necessarily mean everything will be wine and roses. Nate Hoffelder notes on The Digital Reader that this could invite more anti-trust scrutiny on Apple, just as Microsoft bundling Internet Explorer with Windows did for Microsoft. What’s more, Apple charges a 30% vig to any e-book or other media e-tailer who wants to include a media store within its application—giving iBooks a distinct advantage since it’s Apple’s own store and it doesn’t have to charge that extra 30% to itself. (Microsoft, at least, didn’t charge the makers of other web browsers money to let them run just as well on Windows as IE.)
Will this result in Department of Justice scrutiny? It’s worth remembering that one of the DoJ’s proposed sanctions against Apple in the anti-trust case was to roll back the 30% fee for in-app stores, at least for a couple of years. Judge Cote tossed that one out because she didn’t want to get bogged down in regulating Apple’s app store as well as the book business, but it does show that the DoJ is aware of the issue. And we just saw that they’ve been keeping a further eye on the publishers, too. It will be interesting to see if this leads to any further action on their part.