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The dangers of platform lock-in

Even iOS can lead to a content access and support dead-end

One reason some consumers haven’t jumped on the ebook bandwagon is because they’re concerned the format they select might become obsolete in a few years. Others dismiss that as unfounded pessimism but I have an example of how it can happen, and not with some fly-by-night platform. This problem happened on Apple’s extremely popular iOS platform.

Here’s a link to a problem one of our customers recently reported about our iOS ebook apps. As you’ll see, when iOS 6 arrived it broke our book apps by preventing readers from going beyond the first page of any chapter. This problem was caused by a chain-reaction of events:

  1. We hired a third-party to develop our iOS book apps. This was a pretty popular developer btw, used by many other publishers as well.
  2. That third-party developer was was acquired by someone not named Apple.
  3. Not surprisingly, it became quite clear after the acquisition that support from this developer would evaporate, especially for products on competing platforms like iOS.
  4. When iOS 6 hit and created this problem we had no way of updating the apps.

When the problem was reported my colleague Adam Witwer jumped in and offered the solution outlined a bit further down the thread. In short, we’re removing the apps from iTunes and offering free multi-format ebook bundles to anyone who previously bought the iOS apps.

Rather than being stuck with an iOS-only version our customers will now have access to the content in all major formats (e.g., PDF, EPUB and mobi). It was a painful lesson but it shows that even a platform as rich and robust as iOS can lead to a dead-end for ongoing content access and support.

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Comments: 3

  1. The main reason I haven’t jumped into eBooks is ownership more than platform, also DRM. I’m not interested in spending large amounts of money on reading material that I’m only renting.

    • Absolutely. And you could argue those iOS apps are a different form of DRM. That’s yet another reason why it’s good for us to free those customers from that lock-in by providing them with the DRM-free EPUB/PDF/mobi bundles.

  2. This is one of the things that I hate most about my job – being a producer in a shop that does a lot of iOS work. A closed system that’s forced to evolve, by definition, has to change. And that change requires both users and developers to adjust. On one hand, it means plenty of work. On the other, it also means plenty of work. 

    The logical conclusion seems to be a cloud-based solution. eBooks and webpages already share the same underlying markup. Next stop is a hosted-solution where users are granted access. That way, there’s no waste of sending a user 3 files when they’ll only use 1. 

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