Mobile

Apple hints it wants to tax content, not software

Apple recently dropped another hammer on iPhone app developers by requiring them to use a subscription payment plan similar to Apple’s in-app purchasing plan.

But Apple’s chief executive Steve Jobs said that web-based software applications that do not involve publishing content do not fall under Apple’s new subscription plans in an email message today, according to MacRumors. That means that services like Dropbox, Box.net and other analytics suites would not have to work under Apple’s new laws — at least, that’s the theory.

“We created subscriptions for publishing apps, not SaaS apps,” Jobs said in the message.

SaaS, or software-as-a-service, refers to any application that is run on a remote server and accessed through a web-based interface. That includes services like online radio Pandora, Facebook and other storage applications. But there are plenty of arguments that content-producing applications like the Wall Street Journal are also “SaaS” applications. In fact, most applications outside of games on the Apple app store are run on remote servers and transmit their data through the web to iPhones and iPads everywhere — meaning they fall under the category of “SaaS” applications in the broad sense.

So far it seems like the largest complaint is that Apple is not clear about which applications are going to fall under its subscription plan, which lets iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users subscribe to a service by pressing a single button and sends 30 percent of the subscription revenue to Apple. While it looks like Jobs draws a clear line between service applications and content applications, there’s still a lot of confusion on the rest of the web.

The team behind Readability, a mobile web reader that strips away advertising and other images from websites, recently abandoned their plans to work on Apple devices because of Apple’s new subscription rules. That was a clear-cut case of an app serving as a content publisher rather than a service application. But it isn’t clear where to certain companies that consider themselves media companies, like LinkedIn, fall on Apple’s eye test.

Apple’s execution when it announced the newest subscription plan was also terrible, said Aaron Levie, chief executive of Box.net. His company, which provides enterprise storage on and collaboration tools on remote servers, has an application on the app store — but it doesn’t look like it will fall under the subscription plan, as per Jobs’ latest comments.

“If I were in Apple’s place, and bear in mind we’re drinking the same water in Palo Alto, this should have been rolled out as something “cool” and exclusive rather than enforced,” Levie said. “And you would have seen a lot more support because of it.”

He said Box.net would still continue working with the app store regardless, because they have “bigger fish to fry.” It looks like other enterprise-class applications like Salesforce will be spared Apple’s 30 percent revenue share. It’s probably for the best, too — Apple is quietly making significant strides in the enterprise space, and a jab at their enterprise app developers could do a lot of damage to a budding segment that has a lot of room to grow.

VentureBeat has contacted Apple to get some additional clarification about what applications fall under its new subscription plan and where Software-as-a-service applications like Box.net stand. We’ll update the story as soon as we hear back.

[Photo: acaben]


Mobile developer or publisher? VentureBeat is studying mobile marketing automation. Fill out our 5-minute survey, and we'll share the data with you.