Apple: More Anticompetitive Than Microsoft

Just under a month ago, an iPhone developer from Australia — one who’s previously defended Apple’s approval process — had his own app suddenly dis-approved by Apple. According to his blog post about the sudden revocation of approval, “I had convinced my company to take a gamble and make some apps for Apple’s Store. Tennis Stats had been a great success and we wanted to get on the iPad train with My Frame. Things were going well, new features were being planned money, real money was being invested. Then Apple pulled the pin”.

I could say all sorts of things about schadenfreude, or how the developer — who goes by the nom de plume “Shifty Jelly” — should have seen this coming. But the guy’s already having a bad enough month, and there are broader issues to examine. Among them the thought raised by commenter Erik K. Veland:

Remember when Apple cracked down on Podcast downloaders? It was because they themselves were introducing this very feature in iTunes.

[I] would surmise [that] Apple is now bringing “widgets” to their dashboard in the near future, and that they are pre-empting any apps conflicting with the “duplicate functionality” clause. [historical links, added by Kai]

Once you’ve considered Apple’s penchant for banning apps that compete with features that are built in to the OS, you’ve got to consider how this compares against other companies’ competitive practices. I think one of the most insightful points comes in a comment by user “Adrock”, nearly at the bottom of the page:

the big difference between Xbox and iPhone/iPad marketplace is the unpredictable changes. I don’t know of any XBox game that got recalled after its release because MS changed its mind about something.

Honestly, it’s a despicable practice. Imagine Call of Duty getting yanked off the 360 a week after it’s released because it competed with Halo (an MS owned FPS). This is really no different. [spelling and punctuation corrected for clarity]

Other commenters noted that while Microsoft had often put third-party utility makers out of business, by folding that functionality into Windows itself, it never actually blocked the utilities from running on Windows. It just made them unnecessary, then let them die off as users lost interest and no longer bothered to buy them. (One thing I definitely noticed about Shifty Jelly’s blog: he’s got some smart and insightful commenters.)

So this raises the question: Why has Apple been getting such a free pass from geeks for so long? People who have been agitating for open document standards since 2003 (if not earlier) have happily accepted DRMed AACs on their iPods, and a single gatekeeper for apps on the iPhone/iPad ecosystem — a single gatekeeper that even maintains the ability to remotely auto-vanish apps after installation. That part is eerily reminiscent of the “only authorized/signed applications will run” feature of the TCPA/Palladium proposal that got geeks so very disturbed back in the early 2000s. We mobilized and managed to kill Palladium — and yet now we’re writing apps for the Apple Store, and some of us are even surprised when Apple decides to yank their certification?

For once, the US government is ahead of the tech geeks on this curve, with the Federal Trade Commission initiating a probe of Apple’s anti-competitive practices — coincidentally, less than two weeks after Shifty Jelly’s post. (Of course, given the Department of Justice’s record with the Microsoft decision, I don’t expect anything of any real importance to come of this probe. Even if it leads to a full trial and a win against Apple, the “penalties”, if any, will amount to a slap on the wrist.)

Microsoft never tried to use its dominance in the desktop OS market to keep us from accessing or storing porn on our computers. Microsoft never stopped small-scale, private developers from distributing software that would run on any and every Windows machine in existence. But Apple is on an anti-porn crusade that even denied the Gutenberg Project’s app simply because it could have been used to download a copy of the Kama Sutra, and exercises increasingly arbitrary-looking control over what apps can be distributed at all.

So, will someone please tell me: Why is Apple still considered a “good guy”?