The collateral damage of a closed ecosystem

There are lots of people willing to engage on the debate between iOS devices (iPod touch, iPhones, iPads) and Android devices (phones and tablets of all kinds).
For me it comes down to this: the closed technological ecosystem of iOS provides a better user experience for the majority of users. Apple’s tight integration of both hardware and software create something that is beautiful to look and is seen as highly desirable. For all iOS devices there is only one UI, once you get the hang of it (and for many people it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to do all the basics). More importantly though is the fact that there is only one official application (app) store. There are others out there, but in order to use them you have to jailbreak your phone, something most people wouldn’t do anyway.  By keeping this tight control Apple exerts control over what is available, approving not only apps, but updates to them, as well as asking developers to drop some parts of them. One reason (though there are others) they do this is that every purchase made, whether for the app itself or for in-app purchases brings revenue to them. Apple takes a cool 30% off the top of all revenues.

One reason this makes for a better UX is that users know that any app in the app store will work for their device. This is not the case with Android with several different flavors of the OS available, and of course a multitude of different hardware platforms and screen resolutions. This has advantages for those creating the apps as well, but I won’t get into that.

But what happens when a well known product, and brand such as Audible (owned by Amazon) has an app that even links to their mobile site to go and purchase more audio books?  They were asked to remove it as evidenced by the email I received:

This is what I received from Audible. They present a workaround, but I wonder how many people will do it?

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes thought Audible was flouting the rules, but as one commenter said the link has been there for months, indeed for as long as I’ve had the app (since early this year) there has been a link to the mobile store.

Ideally one could search and make purchases in-app, but I can see why Audible wouldn’t want to give away 30% of it’s revenue to Apple.  The most ironic thing though is that Audible subscribers pay a monthly fee in return for credits. So I’ve already paid audible for the credits, why not be able to spend those in-app.  I suppose though that would open up the flood gates of games where you buy credits outside on the web and then bring them back into the game.

In an ideal world one could have the great UX of a closed ecosystem and situations like this wouldn’t arise. Given that it has I wonder what I would do if I were in the strategy team at Apple. Would I allow it? Where does one draw the line?

From a UX or User-centered perspective I would say it makes a lot more sense to let people buy in-app, and any who don’t want to pay the Apple tax have to deal with it. This grates against my idea of fairness though. This is a great example of how design always offers alternatives that often are in conflict with each other. This example also shows how business decisions and strategy come into play in design.  Typically designers consider the people and the materials (technology), but increasingly we need to be mindful of the business considerations involved.

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