EU Considering App Store Antitrust Probe

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European Union Commissioner Neelie Kroes is considering launching an antitrust investigation into Apple’s App Store policies even as the organization is working on new laws that could force Apple change how iPhone apps are distributed. The proposed legislation could potentially require Apple to allow third-party iOS app development platforms, including Adobe Flash CS5, according to Rethink Wireless.

“We need to make sure that significant market players cannot just choose to deny interoperability with their product,” Ms. Kroes said. “This is not just about Microsoft or any big company like Apple, IBM or Intel. The main challenge is that consumers need choice when it comes to software or hardware products.”

Along with allowing third-party development platforms, the proposed EU laws could force Apple to abandon its app approval process for third-party developers.

The EU’s goal is to ensure device interoperability and to prevent any one company from gaining what it sees as unfair control over a market.

“Since not all pervasive technologies are based on standards the benefits of interoperability risk being lost in such areas,” Ms. Kroes said. “The Commission will examine the feasibility of measures that could lead significant market players to license interoperability information while at the same time promoting innovation and competition.”

Apple isn’t, however, being singled out. The commission is considering investigating how other companies are handling interoperability in the smartphone market, too.

Comments

geoduck

The proposed legislation could potentially require Apple to allow third-party iOS app development platforms, including Adobe Flash CS5, according to Rethink Wireless.

It’s a long way from getting approved but if it were to come to pass it would be an excruciatingly bad thing.

jfbiii

Some people aren’t happy with a car until they’ve put spinning rims and hydraulics on it.

Ion_Quest

excruciatingly bad thing.

Bad for developers?  Bad for iDevice users?  Bad for Apple$$?

jimothy

What gives the EU the right to decide how private businesses must run their operations? Clearly, most consumers don’t feel they’re being harmed by Apple’s practices. If they do, they’re free to choose Android-based phones. If those that do choose Android phones, and there are increasing numbers of them, are doing so because they are, in fact, displeased will Apple’s app store policies, then the market is taking care of itself as it ought to, and the EU needn’t intervene.

So, either consumers are not being harmed, or those that feel they are have other choices. Either way, we don’t need more government intervention in private business.

Apple does have a controlling attitude towards their platforms, and they have every right to. They’ve spent billions developing these platforms, and taken enormous risks in doing so. It appears that consumers like the integrated, curated systems and platforms that Apple has created. With the iPhone and iPod, the success of this approach is obvious; they are market leaders, and the iPad appears to be following this success. Even though the Mac remains a niche player, a relatively small but still significant base of customers have also voted with their wallet that they like Apple’s approach.

Those that favor more diverse platforms, be they Android, Windows, or others, have choices. So clearly, this move is not being consumer driven. Who, then, is pushing the EU? Could it be busy-body regulators? I wouldn’t doubt there’s that aspect to it, but more likely, it’s competitors who consumers, through their purchasing decisions, have spurned. No doubt Adobe is lobbying the EU hard, ostensibly in the name of “choice” and protection of consumers. But consumers already have choice, and the choice that many of them have made is that they don’t care what technology is used to develop applications for their phone, they just want something that is attractive, easy to use, and which works.

EU, butt out. No matter how noble you’ve convinced yourself that you’re being, you’re not looking out for consumers. They can take care of themselves; they’re not the unfortunate, helpless idiots you believe them to be. You’re favoring the interests of some large, multibillion dollar, multinational companies (Adobe, Google, Microsoft, etc.) over another large, multibillion dollar, multinational company (Apple). The “little guy” isn’t being looked after, and he doesn’t need to be looked after; he’s already got choices. Now let him continue to make those choices, even if he chooses to buy from a company offering a “walled garden.” Apparently, he finds that garden quite pleasing.

aardman

Seems to me like the EU needs to acquire a better understanding of how the tech industry works.  What will be their response when Apple points out how the MS and Adobe suites were delayed for years in offering advanced OS-X features because they refused to use Cocoa?  Will the EU claim that this delay was good for consumers?

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Fanboys turning into libertarians… It melts my heart. A few links to get you up to speed on the movement…

Reason Magazine

Cafe Hayek

Cato Institute

NORML

Welcome fellow travelers! And no, opposing the drug war doesn’t mean you’re a pot smoker.

jimothy

Bosco,

Thanks for the links. I was familiar with all, and regular reader of, all except NORML. Incidentally, agreed 100% on the drug war; I’ve never smoked pot myself (no, seriously!), but I don’t see it as my, or my elected representatives’, duty to tell others they cannot if they so choose.

jfbiii

...they?re not the unfortunate, helpless idiots you believe them to be…

Given the dominate operating system and web browser, one could argue that you are very, very wrong on this point.

jimothy

Given the dominate operating system and web browser, one could argue that you are very, very wrong on this point.

I still wouldn’t call Windows users helpless idiots. Some of them actually like Windows, as much as you and I do not. Some of them are simply unaware that real choices exist, and thus choose Windows by default. That make make them na?ve, or ignorant at worse, but that doesn’t make them idiots.

I believe we should respect people’s decisions, even those we disagree with. But we should especially not ask the government to protect us from ourselves; that never ends well. Even if Windows users, or iPhone users who buy from Apple’s “closed” app store, are idiots, so what? What’s the harm?

The EU pretends to be protecting consumers from our own decisions, which is something we never asked for and which isn’t needed. The truth is, they’re protecting less efficient, productive competitors by weakening the strong one (Apple in this case, Microsoft in others). That’s never a good thing for consumers. Let effective companies win, and let less effective companies strive to be stronger.

(Bosco, I’m not turning into a libertarian; I’ve long been one).

Nookster

Oppressive EU attacking the Apple consumers freedom from choice, BOO. Fight the tyranny of option etc.

WetcoastBob

Apple Inc should call their bluff.  The users will apoplectic.

seanB

Apple is always free to endorse apps and those who are concerned about the dangers of flash or anything else running on their iOS device need just install Apple Endorsed Apps. This would be real freedom. I am a developer and find it harder and harder to develop using Apple’s draconian model. Many developers (and some great developers) have left the fold unwilling to kiss Apple’s a$$ any longer. The free market is not such a great self regulator - I am one of the lucky ones whose ancestors survived the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840’s which was directly attributed to the “Free Market”.

ctopher

Yea, just like the fungus that killed the potato harvest and the accompanied grain tariffs, you’re going to die if you can’t install any app you want on your iDevice.

Don’t like Apple’s rules? Develop for Android or Windows Phone 7. It’s not like your choice is using an iPhone or dieing of scurvy. There are plenty of portable telecommunication devices, most of which are less expensive, for your software development endeavors.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@ctopher… With such strong libertarian sentiments, you actually run up against a very difficult line in your second paragraph. I would preface your second paragraph with “Rather than asking government authorities for redress.”.

Apple and its policies are not immune from private criticism, even when such private criticism might bring attention from government authorities. I don’t think the software ecosystem is healthy when a company shipping real personal computing devices with a prominent market position is deciding what development tools can be used to deploy software on the platform. I certainly don’t think the blunt edge of government power could fix that or even not make it worse. But I still don’t think it’s healthy and will continue to debate those who do.

ctopher

Mr. Hutchings, I agree that replacing my first sentence with yours in my second paragraph would better relate to the article, but since I don’t think of this issue as a “rights” issue, most of the gripes I’ve seen are more on the “opinion” side. They just don’t like it.

I’m not that libertarian, I more-or-less agreed with the DOJ when it slapped down Microsoft because at the time Microsoft had a huge share of the market. Apple doesn’t have a huge share (largely because of it’s price point) and thus I feel that they can do what they want with their products and “marketplace”.

Now if they become the only game in town for mobile applications then I do believe that the government has a right to level the marketplace playing field.

I also think Apple wants to keep it’s products aspirational to enjoy the large margins and small market share. This way they can make a bunch of cash and not become too big to be left alone.

If you think their rules will hurt sales and opinions of Apple, then short the stock. The market can influence.

From what I know of the casual user, they don’t care that Apple is the only place for apps, they care that they can’t reliably make a call on their new iPhone 4 when their old iPhone 3 worked great.

EU Antitrust? Apple is not hated yet, for the general public to care.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

If you think their rules will hurt sales and opinions of Apple, then short the stock. The market can influence.

See, this is where we profoundly disagree. I know that the typical Apple/Mac fan doesn’t like to see the criticism. That is why they make arguments like yours. “If you don’t like it, then you’re free to go elsewhere” has an implied “but you’re not free to criticize us” at the end. If I were a troll (as some here think and continually accuse), then that’s where I win. Think about it.

But the reason I continually come back and point out where Apple falters with its Draconian policies is that one day for each of you, a light will go off in your head, and you’ll see the totality of it. You’ll see the inevitability of Apple doing something else within the next month that is blatantly stupid on a large scale and that you couldn’t imagine today. Something that Apple fans will have to apologize for and look silly making the apology. Control is in Apple’s DNA. Humility is not. It comes from the top.

I’ll leave you with an example of an early seed of discontent planted by Apple… Jason O’Grady writes today about the new YouTube app. I wonder how Apple turned such a loyal fanatic into such a fierce, insightful critic. grin

jimothy

I agree that Apple is capable of faltering, and that they do, indeed, falter. But again, the market will take care of this. If Apple is draconian, customers and developers will flock to a competitor. If the EU (or US, etc.) is draconian, what recourse do citizens have? Flee their country and continent? That’s a lot more drastic than buying from another company.

So, yes, Apple is deserving of criticism (though, in this particular case, I think it’s overdone), but keep the government out of it.

ctopher

Absolutely Apple is capable of faltering and they do deserve criticism. From where I sit, the iPhone 4 is a major failure. I have friends who cannot use it to make a phone call. They get dropped almost immediately. They are one their second pair of phones and they cannot call each other. They have no problems with their old iPhone 3, so from their perspective, it’s the phone.

That’s really bad. Also really bad is saying you’re holding it wrong. (And then showing people holding it that way in all of their ads.) That’s sloppy and reprehensible.

egadget

But to whine that you cannot do something with their device that you can do with a different device, well that just seems silly.

But yes, I might think about going short on Apple if they keep making iPhone 4 missteps.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

But to whine that you cannot do something with their device that you can do with a different device, well that just seems silly.

OK, so how about “whining” about not being able to do something with your device that you purchased from them (ahem) that you used to be able to do with the device? Legit or not?

ctopher

What are you referring to?

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

For starters, “skin apps” and “widget apps”. Then you can move on to apps made with Adobe AIR. There are many other examples of apps and whole classes of apps that were once available in the App Store and are now not available. These iOS devices have lifetimes. The iPhone in particular has a service lifetime tied to carrier contract.

What about developers who invested time and sweat in making apps that were OK and approved one day, then purged another? Do they have a right to “whine” or should they just move on quietly to another platform?

jfbiii

I’m not sure what’s so insightful about a critic who invents an advantage where there isn’t one. YouTube updated their mobile site. Everything that it does better than the iPhone YouTube app…it does better better than the iPhone YouTube app on an iPhone.

Rather than develop apps for mobile platforms at the OS level, Google is developing for the web meta-platform. With their own operating system in use, would anyone expect them to continue to maintain iPhone apps?

Whining is fine. But most of the whining about Apple is like most of the whining about politics: it’s less often critical than it is strategic.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Point of clarification… The YouTube app on iPhone is written and maintained by Apple, who are already over 6 months behind at supporting a basic YouTube feature - “Like”—instead of the old ratings feature—“stars”.

This is a great example of why companies should not rely on 3rd party compatibility layers. If the developers don’t keep up, you can’t move the platform forward, right Apple? It’s funny to see Apple having done the same thing it came down on a whole class of developers for.

Chris Letordo

Great step by the EU. I hope the US follows up.

I will not own an iPad or iPhone as long as Steve Jobs decides which software I can or can not run on it.

In the meantime, go Android! That is a true open system.

kornco

I continually come back and point out where Apple falters with its Draconian policies is that one day for each of you, a light will go off in your head, and you?ll see the totality of it. You?ll see the inevitability of Apple doing something else within the next month that is blatantly stupid on a large scale and that you couldn?t imagine today. Something that Apple fans will have to apologize for and look silly making the apology. Control is in Apple?s DNA. Humility is not. It comes from the top.
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