Walmart launches iPad-optimized Vudu site, eschews native app

Vudu titles

Mega-retailer Walmart has decided not to develop a native iPad app for its Vudu video streaming service, opting instead to launch an iPad-optimized version of the Web site that enables customers to rent, buy, and watch video titles from Vudu—without having to hand over 30 percent of their revenues to Apple. With the iPad-optimized site, Walmart becomes the latest major content distributor to choose to bypass Apple’s in-app purchasing technology in favor of direct sales via the Web.

To access the service, customers just need to point their iPads to www.vudu.com; the site will detect the iPad and present the optimized interface.

Not all Vudu content is available to the iPad-optimized site: most notably, Disney content is not available for streaming. Vudu says other limitations imposed by content providers limit streaming services to SD resolution. Vudu notest HD and HDX versions of some movies can be purchased using iPads, then watched on Vudu-enabled HDTVs and other devices.

Walmart’s decision to go with an iPad-optimized Web site rather than a native iOS app for its Vudu service likely has everything to do with Apple’s in-app purchasing system: developers of native apps are free to sell content and other material to customers within their applications, but the purchases have to traverse Apple’s systems—and Apple takes a 30 percent cut of those purchases. The restrictions put content sellers with low margins in a tight situation: either they sell content via native apps at higher prices in order, potentially lose money on in-app purchases due to Apple’s overhead, or—as in Vudu’s case—opt out of a native app and offer direct purchases via the Web.

Apple, of course, is betting that the ease of use of native applications will draw consumers, and consumers will drive publishers and distributors to offer native apps with in-app purchasing capability. However, Apple is seeing some high-profile defectors from its in-app purchasing capability: along with Vudu, Amazon’s just-released Kindle Cloud Reader for iOS bypasses in-app purchasing. Bookseller Kobo has announced it plans to do a Web-based bookstore rather than offer in-app purchasing, and The Financial Times launched a Web-based version of its publication back in June.

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