Today The New York Times is reporting that Apple is changing its policy for allowing apps to deliver content that was paid for somewhere other than in the app where Apple would get a cut. This came to light when Sony was forced to explain why its iPhone and iPad apps were not being released as promised. This is important to illustrate clearly because this is not just about Sony. In fact, it is expected that Apple will apply this same policy to existing apps over the coming months. The most obvious target is Amazon.com's Kindle store, but we have no reason to believe it will stop with eBook retailers; instead, this policy should also affect magazines, newspapers, even videos and games.
This represents a shift for Apple. Going back to the iPod days, Apple only sold music because it helped sell iPods. When Apple added the iPhone app store, it allowed Amazon to add a Kindle app because it would only make iPhones more valuable to potential buyers. The same held true for the iPad. But now that the company has built such a powerful ecosystem of devices, content, and consumers, it appears Apple is eager to ensure it can collect any and all tolls along its proprietary highways. I note this with some irony because it was just three weeks ago that I praised Apple's surprising openness in a report explaining the iPad's rapid growth:
A funny thing happened while we in IT were focused on ITIL, data center consolidation and standardization. The business went shopping for better technology solutions. We’ve been their go-to department for technology since the mainframe days and have been doing what they asked. When they wanted higher SLAs we invested in high availability solutions. When they asked for greater flexibility we empowered them with client-server, application servers and now virtual machines. All the while they have relentlessly badgered us for lower costs and greater efficiencies. And we’ve given it to them. And until recently, they seemed satisfied. Or so we thought.
Sure, we’ve tolerated the occasional SaaS application here and there. We’ve let them bring in Macs (just not too many of them) and we’ve even supported their pesky smart phones. But each time they came running to us for assistance when the technical support need grew too great.
Bear with me one second. I am not denying the fact that iPhone owners are the heaviest users of mobile services. I am just saying that there are plenty of opportunities in the mobile space on other smartphone platforms and with selected audiences. Mobile is not just about applications or mobile Web sites. Even good old SMS can be powerful depending on the objectives you have set and the audiences you want to interact with.
What’s certain is that iPhone owners can only be a subset of your customer base. Only 2% of European mobile users report having an iPhone as their main mobile phone. Does that mean that there are no opportunities to target more mainstream audiences? Not at all.
A much larger near- and medium-term opportunity exists within other groups — particularly among young consumers, business users, and consumers with flat-rate data plans — as well as, increasingly, with new, competing smartphone platforms. In fact, if you’re not targeting them, you’re neglecting the majority of your customer base — including many consumers who are mobile-savvy but don’t have an iPhone.
Let’s make this even clearer. 96% of European 16- to 24-year-olds do not own an iPhone. Should you avoid engaging with youth via mobile because of that? I don’t think so.