For once, Apple may have bitten off more than it can chew.
Ever since the success of the iPod, the company has had an iron grip on digital music sales and has tried to extend its reach to include movies, TV shows, ebooks -- virtually any type of media online. The success of the iPad seemed to indicate that Apple could well achieve its goals.
If you had an online store, like Amazon, or a newspaper, you had to have an iPad app if you wanted to reach those users. And to reach those users, you had to play by Apple's rules -- including giving a 30 percent cut of everything you sold to the kings of Cupertino.
Now media companies and retailers are saying, not so fast. They've found a way around Apple's rules, essentially cutting out the middleman.
First, The Financial Times introduced a Web-based way for tablet owners to subscribe to the e-paper without going through Apple. Then last week, Amazon released the Kindle Cloud Reader, an ebook reading program that doesn't require an Apple app and doesn't require Amazon to give Apple a percentage of sales.
The Cloud Reader works in the Safari browser, letting you buy books directly from Amazon -- and read your purchases online and offline. You can also save the Web reader so that it looks like a regular iPad app.
How are they doing this? By using the next-generation Web standard called HTML5.
Ironically, Apple itself has been promoting HTML5 (or hypertext markup language 5), mainly because the company stubbornly refused to support Adobe's Flash. As most iPad owners know, the lack of Flash support has meant that many videos and animations won't play on a iPad. So, by not supporting Flash, Apple has been pushing companies to use HTML5. And those companies have learned that HTML5 gives them a way to avoid Apple's app and store restrictions, and sell directly to consumers.
The point is that HTML5 is an open standard. Anyone can use it to create what they will. Critical, however, is the fact that HTML5 supports not only animations, video, and audio, but also a host of other functions, enabling people to build what look like full-blown applications within a Web page. You can turn a page into a ebook reader, music player, or game player -- no app store required.
Newer browsers, such as the latest Firefox browser released today, have been adding more and more support for HTML5. (Support for HTML5 is a complicated matter. Google's Chrome browser supports a lot of the standard, the other browsers less so.) And pretty much every company online has committed to supporting HTML5, from Microsoft to FoxNews.com -- meaning don't look now, but you're probably staring at some HTML5 code.
Ultimately, everything online may go the way of HTML5. And that would be a good thing.
By allowing Web designers to embed more and more functions within a Web page (including some creepy tracking functions, but that's another column), they could create games and sell them directly to consumers, for example. Moreover, companies could experiment with new online products, without having to wait for Apple's app approval.
In many ways, this could be the real Web 2.0, transforming not only Apple's business but businesses around the globe. The first go around, the Web changed everything from Microsoft to Barnes & Noble. We could be about to see it happen all over again.