February 22, 2011, 11:30 AM — Steve Jobs has reportedly weighed in on the iOS in-app subscriptions controversy with one of his famously terse e-mails, but the latest one-liner from Apple's CEO doesn't clear things up. Responding to an iOS developer's inquiry, Jobs purportedly said apps such as Dropbox, Evernote, Salesforce and other similar software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps would not be required to use Apple's new in-app subscription service, according to MacRumors.
"We created subscriptions for publishing apps, not SaaS apps," Jobs reportedly said in the e-mail. Jobs' note comes soon after Readability -- an online service that allows you to save the text of articles for later reading offline -- complained in a blog post that Apple rejected its iOS app for failing to use the new in-app subscription service. Readability charges a recurring membership fee for its service and then distributes 70% of its profits to writers.
What is SaaS?
Apple appears to be drawing a distinct line between apps that deliver content to iOS users such as Rhapsody, Netflix or The New York Times, versus services that offer online document storage, note-taking services, business tools and other subscription-based software tools.
The thin digital line
The problem is that the line Apple draws between SaaS and content publishers may not be so clear. For starters, is Readability a SaaS or a publisher? It's true that Readability offers you news content, but is it publishing that content? Not really. There's little difference between bookmarking this article you're reading right now to access later using Readability or Instapaper or just highlighting the text, copying it into a text file and stashing it in Dropbox. Yes, the Dropbox method is a lot more work, but the end result is the same: a set of text articles set aside to read later. What's the difference? It would seem Apple believes one method is content publishing (Readability) and one is SaaS (Dropbox).
Are things really as they seem?
But there is one important thing to find out: Was Readability rejected for implementing an alternative to Apple's in-app purchase system or for not using the company's system at all?
Readability said in its blog post that it was rejected for violating section 11.2 of Apple's App Store Review Guidelines, which reads, "Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected."