Gruber: “Apple Doesn’t Need Readability.” Yes, They Do.

February 21st, 2011

John Gruber comments on Apple rejecting Readability’s app:

Maybe I’m missing something, but these guys claiming to be surprised and disappointed by Apple’s insistence on a 30 percent cut of subscriptions when their own business model is to take a 30 percent cut of subscriptions strikes me as rich. And how can they claim that Readability isn’t “serving up content”? That’s exactly what Readability does. What they’re pissed about is that Apple has the stronger hand. Readability needs Apple to publish an app in the App Store. Apple doesn’t need Readability.

No one is claiming—not even Readability—that Apple doesn’t have the right to take 30 percent of all subscription revenue. The argument is that it’s a bad decision for developers and Apple.

And no, they’re not pissed because Apple has the stronger hand—they’re pissed because this destroys their business model. And because it’s idiotic on Apple’s part; the iOS platform’s strength lies in being, well, just that: a platform, something that others can build their services on top of. With their new subscription and in-app purchase rules, Apple is effectively making a number of businesses very difficult, like music streaming.

Gruber’s position is that Apple shouldn’t care, because they don’t “need” Readability. But they most assuredly do, in the aggregate; Apple needs Readability, and Pandora, and Netflix, and Instpaper1, and Rdio, and all other businesses put in a precarious position by Apple’s new rules. Apple needs them because a large part of the platform’s value is in having access to all kinds of media and services.

This isn’t just because it’s nice to have Netflix and Pandora: it’s because the iPhone and iPad’s magic is the idea that it becomes whatever application you’re using. What good is it if you can’t use a number of services that you really love using? Not much. The iOS platform will become dramatically less useful and exciting if there are only a limited number of services available.

Just try explaining to a new potential iOS user why their favorite service isn’t available. “Oh, well, Apple has these rules that, uh, they have to take 30 percent of all subscription revenue, and they don’t want to pay it…”

Yeah. Potential new customers will love that, I’m sure. I have a sneaking suspicion the next words out of their mouth will be, “What phone does it work on?”

Apple marketed the iPhone based on the number of applications available for years. The implicit point there is that whatever you want to do, you can find it in the App Store. If Apple doesn’t adjust their rules, that will no longer be true. So, yes, Apple does need Readability. And everyone else they represent.

  1. Instapaper allows users to subscribe, too, and only subscribers will be able to use third-party Instapaper clients when they are developed; will all applications using Instapaper’s full API be rejected, too, since they won’t offer a subscription option? []