RealTime IT News

Amazon Nixes iPhone App Again

Is Amazon going to be under siege once again from the blogosphere, this time in regard to a policy change pertaining to mobile use of its Product Advertising API?

That may be the case, as bloggers and Tweeters take up the cause of developer and Delicious Monster CEO Wil Shipley, who had to pull the iPhone version of his popular program Delicious Library due to Amazon's Advertising API guidelines. Delicious Library is a Mac-based media library system that has previously won Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) design awards.

At issue is an Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) clause dating back to 2007, according to Shipley, that states "You will not, without our express prior written approval … use any Product Advertising Content on or in connection with any site or application designed or intended for use with a mobile phone or other handheld device."

Shipley, who was using the Product Advertising API since before 2007, but for Mac computers and not iPhones, was unaware of the clause until Amazon lawyers contacted him. They demanded he remove the program from the Apple App store.

After a week of asking for an exemption via the link for doing so provided by Amazon, he was told Amazon wasn't making any exceptions, and tweeted that "they told me to remove it today, or they'd shut me down."

The move is prompting other developers to question Amazon's strategy. Jim Dovey, a Mac and iPhone mobile developer, believes Amazon wants to shut out mobile apps it doesn't oversee, citing the recent acquisition of mobile visual product search firm SnapTell.

"With the recent acquisition of SnapTell by Amazon subsidiary A9.com, it would seem that Amazon simply wants to try and own the entire mobile marketplace for its products itself. In essence it seems that while one horse bolted, desktop-based apps, they want to shut the door on the other -- mobile apps -- to keep it for themselves," Dovey told InternetNews.com.

He said the clause is unduly restrictive and essentially means Amazon is telling customers that they can only access Amazon content and purchase books on-the-go through amazon.com or the e-tailer's own iPhone application, which is still unavailable outside the US.

He goes on to say that Amazon is only hurting itself in the case of Delicious Library for the iPhone, which is a cataloging application for books, videos, CDs and games. The app organizes the things users already own, and then pulls down from Amazon some information about the items both for its own metadata to store and to suggest similar purchases to the user.

"The ridiculous thing about this action is in the very nature of Delicious Library and how it uses the Amazon API in question," said Dovey. He offered the following example: Say he has a lot of books by a favorite author. He goes into Delicious Library one day and scans through his books and sees that the writer has a new book coming out soon, available at a discount through Amazon. He didn't know that before, so he clicks a button and goes to Amazon to buy it.

"Amazon gets all the money, minus its usual affiliate kickback which goes to Delicious Monster... The API isn't being used to make money for anyone else -- it's used in exactly the manner Amazon themselves would use it, to promote its services and encourage people to give them money," said Dovey.

He does say that perhaps the clause, written when the mobile market was still taking off, is outdated and Amazon simply has yet to reassess how it wants to handle mobile apps.

"The mobile Internet is booming, and has even begun to standardize around a particular browser rendering engine. That sounds like a fairly clear environment to me, so it should be time for Amazon to revisit these terms by now," he said.

It appears this is not the first time an iPhone app has run afoul of Amazon. In November 2008, an Amazon shopping client for the iPhone called Mazo was rejected by Amazon and removed from the App Store under similar circumstances. Then, about a week later, Amazon released its own iPhone app with similar features.

Amazon had not responded to an invitation to comment by press time.