Call it the case of the missing app.
As Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google have updated their e-reader apps to adhere to Apple's new in-app subscription rules that require app developers to strip out any links to external mechanisms for purchasing digital books or subscriptions, one iOS app from a major e-reader player remains mysteriously unavailable: the Sony Reader app.
You may not remember but Apple rejected Sony's Reader iPhone app back in January for allegedly linking off to Sony's online e-bookstore. I should also note that Sony Reader users have been patiently awaiting Reader apps for iPhone and iPad. Not having those apps is a problem for Sony, because both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have long offered customers a way to read their e-book purchases on multiple devices.
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Interestingly, while Sony's app was busy getting rejected, the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Google Books apps were all hanging out in Apple's App Store, their links to their respective e-bookstores left intact. That is, until Apple finally lowered the boom in the last couple of weeks and forced those guys to update their apps and remove any "buy" links, plus any mention of their own Web sites.
Were those e-reader apps grandfathered into the App Store?
Unclear--and no one seems to know. Whenever we asked Amazon or Barnes & Noble reps what the deal was with any impending changes, no one would say anything. Kobo reps were the only ones more forthcoming, explaining that Apple basically hadn't said anything yet, but that they were working under the assumption that they would eventually have to remove links to the Kobo store (which they ultimately did). In the meantime, however, between February and July, Kobo was able to get updates to its iOS app approved by Apple without removing the store links.
When we asked Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis why he thought Sony was having trouble getting its app approved, he just shrugged and said he had no idea. But he added that Apple didn't seem to have a problem approving Kobo's updates.
As for Sony, well, reps there seem as mystified as anybody. When I've met with them on a couple of occasions here in New York, I've asked them what's up with their iOS apps. They basically had the same answer as Serbinis: they had no clue why the apps had yet to be approved. They seem totally exasperated. (Note: we have an e-mail out to Apple but haven't heard back yet).
"I assume you've removed the store and all that?" I asked.
"Yep," the rep said.
"So why haven't they approved the app?" I asked. "Did they give a reason?"
Apparently not. "We have no idea why," the rep said. "It's an ongoing saga. Stay tuned."
So, there you have it. The case of the missing e-reader app. Is there bad blood between Sony and Apple? Who knows. But we have a feeling that someday the app will magically appear in the App Store and we--and Sony--will never know why.