When I say that Amazon and Apple are engaged in tech’s most annoying feud, I don’t mean it’s the most important battle in tech — it’s not. From a business perspective, Amazon and Apple’s squabbles make a certain amount of sense, but that doesn’t mean the whole thing isn’t obnoxious. I’m referring to the little ways these two giant companies have tried to kneecap each other over the years just to slug their users instead.
Today, one glaring example of these obscenely rich companies giving everyone a headache is the fact that Amazon apps for iPhone won’t allow you to buy e-books or audiobooks from the apps themselves. You can browse Amazon’s Kindle or Shopping apps and have a comfortable mobile experience on iOS — everything is laid out nicely and is easily accessible — but as soon as you decide on the perfect e-book, you’re forced to go to a browser to finalise your purchase. This isn’t an issue on Android.
I have two Kindles, but I usually end up reading books using the Kindle app on my iPhone just because it’s always with me. The first time I realised I couldn’t purchase a book on the Kindle app, I moved over to the main Amazon app where I was foiled again. Eventually, I had to navigate to the Amazon site in my mobile browser and go through the whole process of logging in and checking out. A few months later, I tend to forget about this annoyance and repeat the process. This being 2018, I also tend to spend more time buying books than reading them because the world has broken my brain.
Stepping outside of my own problems, let’s look at it from a productivity perspective. Tech companies love to add up all the time little tweaks they make that save people all over the world, like when Google bragged that its Instant feature could save the global population 3.5 billion seconds per day. Amazon doesn’t disclose how many Kindle devices it sells, but in 2013, research firm Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated 20.5 million Kindles were in use in the U.S., and those sales have declined while reading on a phone or tablet has become more common. Let’s just say 20.5 million people have spent five minutes bumbling with the checkout in a browser every year. That would mean people waste over 1.7 million hours in a year because of this problem. This isn’t so much a blood feud in which these companies are trying to mortally wound each other, it’s more like a competition to inflict paper cuts that only hurt users.
The primary reason for this spat is that Amazon apparently doesn’t want to cough up the 30 per cent cut that Apple demands from in-app purchases, which includes e-books through Amazon’s apps. Last year, Mike Torres, a Kindle product director at Amazon, told CNN that his company is still holding out for Apple to cut it a better deal on e-books. That’s unlikely to happen because Apple isn’t in the habit of making exceptions for its App Store commissions, and it wants people to use iBooks for all their reading needs. There’s also likely some lingering animosity between the two companies over the outcomes of some app store and e-book related lawsuits.
We’ve seen similar petty bullshit with Amazon’s refusal to sell the Apple TV because Apple refused to put the Prime Video on its set-top streaming box. The two companies managed to compromise on that issue last year, but the e-book feud continues. Just to be clear, I don’t give a shit about purchasing an Apple TV on Amazon. I encourage everyone to avoid Amazon at all costs because it’s a greedy company that profits off of exploitative labour practices. (Unfortunately, the same can be said for Apple.) Despite its issues, Amazon is still the best place for buying and reading e-books. It’s hard to find any hardware company that doesn’t use exploitative labour practices, and we all live with that shame.
There was a time when things were pretty chill between Apple and Amazon. Back in 2000, Apple licensed Amazon’s 1-Click patent for purchases in its online store. While a patent on tying shipping and billing information to one mouse click seems stupid to me, Apple seemed thrilled to pay money to implement something obvious. Then-CEO Steve Jobs would later wield the 1-Click option as a weapon when he changed the App Store policy to require any company offering a subscription to pay a 30 per cent cut when a subscriber signs up through the iOS app, and Apple made its one-click signup for subscriptions mandatory.
By 2011, Apple no longer wanted to play nice. Amazon introduced its own app store, and Apple felt it had a claim to the whole concept of an app store because it kind of invented it for the iPhone. Apple sued Amazon for trademark infringement, unfair competition, and dilution of its brand. Amazon argued that “app” and “app store” are common phrases and, thus, the suit had no merit. After a two-year legal battle, Apple gave up and dropped the lawsuit but still claimed victory. “We no longer see a need to pursue our case,” an Apple spokesperson told Reuters at the time. “With more than 900,000 apps and 50 billion downloads, customers know where they can purchase their favourite apps.”
But Apple’s boasts wouldn’t last long. The same month it proclaimed itself the winner in the app battle, it was found guilty of conspiring with publishers in an e-book price-fixing scheme. A U.S. District Judge agreed with the Justice Department that five major publishers conspired with Apple to adjust prices in coordination as a way of killing Amazon’s unbeatable price of $9.99 for the most popular e-books. While Amazon wasn’t a participant in that court case, it would have likely been pissed if Apple got away with anti-competitive practices. And after paying lawyers to fight Apple for two years over the frivolous “app store” case, Jeff Bezos surely smiled when the Cupertino company had to pay a gigantic $450 million settlement.
So no, it doesn’t appear that these two will resolve their e-book dispute any time soon. Now that Apple has become the first trillion dollar company, they’ll nickel-and-dime each other as it races to become the first $2 trillion company. Meanwhile, I will remain frustrated that there’s an extra five-minute hurdle that prevents me from giving them my money.