Apple said Friday that it is allowing businesses to sell content or services through applications given away for free at the iPhone maker's online App Store.

The shift of policy is seen as a boon to magazines and newspapers that can give away iPhone or iPod Touch programs featuring basic content and then sell premium articles piecemeal or by subscription.

"In App Purchase is being rapidly adopted by developers in their paid apps," Apple said in response to an AFP inquiry. "Now, developers can use In App Purchase in their free apps to sell content, subscriptions, and digital services."

Apple had previously barred suppliers of free iPhone applications from using the programs to sell content.

Suppliers of free applications can entice iPhone or iPod Touch users with free material in the hope they will eventually pay for enhanced content.

Apple gets a share of purchase prices of programs sold at the App Store and will reportedly share in revenue from sales in free applications.

The policy change comes as rumors abound that the California company behind the Macintosh computer, iPhone and iPod could release a portable tablet computer early next year that may double as an e-reader.

And not just a black-and-white e-reader but one that would boast full color and a 10-inch (25-centimeter) screen making it more of an oversized iPod Touch or a netbook computer, the increasingly popular low-cost mini-laptops.

If an Apple tablet computer does emerge, it would join an e-reader market that is becoming increasingly crowded but is undergoing tremendous growth.

An "iTablet" could also serve as an eye-pleasing platform for stories, video or other content sold through third-party applications.

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