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Apple vs. the world

Things were bad enough when it was only Europe that hated Apple…

Apple's Tim Cook facing worldwide problems

Apple took a big hit yesterday when the US government effectively sued them.

I think it’s fair to say that yesterday was a bad day at the office for Apple, Tim Cook and the Cupertino boys.

And in essence, it all stems from Apple’s ecosystem. What has always been seen as one of its unique strengths has suddenly turned around and bitten them in the arse – and hard.

The suit isn’t without precedent- in 1998 the Department of Justice (DOJ) sued Microsoft for the way they forced and almost coerced Windows users into having to use Internet Explorer as their browser.

More recently Google had its collar felt by the DOJ when they had to contest two antitrust suits. It looks as if tech giants are very much in the line of vision of the US government right now, doesn’t it?

Ironically Apple directly benefited from that decision – but what goes around comes around.

Apple in trouble

The headlines over the past few weeks have all been about the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in Europe which has forced Apple to implement changes to and open up iOS in the EU.

Although the tech giant has continually pushed back and battled against the decisions eventually they’ve had to acquiesce – well kind of at least. Apple keeps doing just enough to technically comply with the letter if not the spirit of the law.

They’ve been accused by their numerous adversaries of exhibiting malicious compliance.

In other words, they are like a sulking school child doing the bare minimum to avoid getting into deeper trouble.

In short, it’s a mess.

Technically you can now side-load in the EU but it’s way, way harder than you might imagine with all sorts of obstacles being placed in your way if you want to go that route. They along with Alphabet (Google), Microsoft, Amazon and a couple of other companies have been deemed so big that their control of the market is seen as potentially harmful – these companies are viewed as Gatekeepers – and that’s bad!

Until yesterday these problems were only centred within the EU – but yesterday those problems landed on their US doorstep when the DOJ sued Apple for illegal monopoly over smartphones.

The US government aren’t best chuffed with the way that the company locks down their iPhones.

Watching on

Examples cited were the way that you have to use an Apple Watch for it to talk to your iPhone – and that if you do manage to set up an alternate smartwatch the experience is far less integrated and premium.

Cloud-streaming and digital wallets or Apple Pay were also in the firing line as was (of course) iMessage – the green bubble versus blue bubble war will just not go away!

DOJ Antitrust Division Chief Jonathan Kanter said in a statement;

“For years, Apple responded to competitive threats by imposing a series of ‘Whac-A-Mole’ contractual rules and restrictions that have allowed Apple to extract higher prices from consumers, impose higher fees on developers and creators, and to throttle competitive alternatives from rival technologies,”

Plenty of terms were bandied about yesterday such as ‘exclusionary conduct’, ‘throttling alternative solutions’ and ‘thwarting innovation’ were just a few that grabbed my attention.

Apple is seen to be using its “control of app distribution to undermine cross-platform technologies such as super apps and cloud streaming apps” said the DOJ.

Not a level playing field

The 30% App Store tax which has been spoken about so much came under fire and of course, the monopoly that Apple still has (outside the EU) over letting its users only download apps from its App Store is seen as highly uncompetitive.

Apple of course would tell you it’s all about privacy and security – well that will soon be put to the test in Europe so we’ll soon know if it was fact or marketing fiction.

In the 88-page document, Apple Pay came under criticism once again as it is the only digital wallet you can have on an iPhone which inhibits cross-platform wallets from being developed that could be used on both Android and iPhones.

They went on to say that Apple’s behaviour affects “web browsers, video communication, news subscriptions, entertainment, automotive services, advertising, location services, and more,” according to the Justice Department.

Messaging was singled out with the DOJ stating that “Apple has made the quality of cross-platform messaging worse, less innovative, and less secure for users so that its customers have to keep buying iPhones.”

Fighting back

As you’d expect Apple had a pretty strong response to yesterday’s news and issued a statement which was shared with MacRumors saying;

“At Apple, we innovate every day to make technology people love—designing products that work seamlessly together, protect people’s privacy and security, and create a magical experience for our users. This lawsuit threatens who we are and the principles that set Apple products apart in fiercely competitive markets. If successful, it would hinder our ability to create the kind of technology people expect from Apple—where hardware, software, and services intersect. It would also set a dangerous precedent, empowering the government to take a heavy hand in designing people’s technology. We believe this lawsuit is wrong on the facts and the law, and we will vigorously defend against it.”

And don’t forget this all comes on the back of the €1.84 billion fine that the EU handed down on Apple after Spotify argued about Apple’s restrictive App Store practices.

In that case, the EU agreed with Spotify who’ve long been at odds with Apple saying;

“Apple bans music streaming app developers from fully informing iOS users about alternative and cheaper music subscription services available outside of the app.”

Final thoughts

Apple is not alone in being on the DOJs naughty step though – in May they will finish closing arguments in the search distribution case against Google that has been going on for months and right after that Google will be hauled back into court over its advertising technology.

There will be no quick fix to this mess and Apple is planning to dismiss the case – mark my words this will rumble on for years.

One last thought though – as the lawyers get ever richer, how much do you think Tim Cook is now regretting that one throwaway phrase when asked by an audience member about not being able to send videos to his mum Cook’s reply was curtly “buy her an iPhone!”

Ouch! Monopoly – what monopoly?

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