Posted Tuesday, February 1st, 2011 at 11:59 pm under companies, tech.

Apple channeling Microsoft?

Image by Lara64

Apple’s behavior, as described today in the New York Times and in Ars Technica reminds me of Microsoft building MSIE into Windows. When that happened, other browser manufacturers cried foul. They argued that this was bundling, that few people would want to use a non-native browser, and that Microsoft was using its platform monopoly to tilt the browser playing field.

Here again we have a vendor (Apple), with an operating system platform (iOS), with a piece of extremely valuable functionality (the App Store) built in by the vendor, who are now strong-arming others writing applications for the platform into always offering access through their functionality. That all reminds me of Microsoft.

While it might now be difficult to think of the iPhone without the App Store, the iPhone existed for 18 months before the App Store came along: the iPhone was released in January 2007, the App Store in July 2008. Windows and MSIE also started life as independent entities; it was about 2 years before they were fused and optimistically declared inseparable.

The two cases are obviously not the same in detail, but I find the similarities striking and thought-provoking.

Just for fun, imagine a court case aimed at forcing Apple to make their App Store separable from their operating system platform. To allow others to build their own app stores. To give the user the choice to install/uninstall whatever app stores they liked. Imagine Apple claiming that such a separation is technically impossible and that the App Store is fundamental to the iPhone experience.

Couldn’t possibly happen, right?

  • Anonymous

    Don’t know if I buy it.

    For one, the App Store is a platform that Apple built. It’s not a gateway to a shared platform in the way that IE was forced upon users as the “only” way to get on the (otherwise open) Web. But more to the point, the App Store IS intrinsic to the iPhone in the sense that, if you want to put software on it, this is the only (typical) method, and it’s been known from the start and known to all purchasers. A similar comparison could be made to video game consoles, which run games that are in their proprietary cartridges (paid for through licensing). You cannot run an XBox game on a PS2, even though they both use DVDs. And no one’s upset about that.

    Also, yes, Apple BUILT this marketplace. Microsoft did not BUILD the Web (in fact, they’ve done more than any other company to destroy its potential). Apple provides visibility, analysis, timely payments, a rich and attractive platform, a promise of continual improvement, and quality control (often underestimated).

    Apple can’t be said to be breaking the law because no one is required to install a single app, ever. And their phone/iPad will still do exactly what it says it will do on the box. Now, if Apple refused to allow Kindle, et al on the App Store, that might be seen as anticompetitive– because those products are valid alternatives.

    Again, why would anyone WANT to produce a competing App store for the iPhone? What possible incentive would they have? The jail breakers have their own, and it works for them, but in terms of developers with legitimate usage of Apple-supported APIs, what reason would there be for a secondary market?

    Microsoft fused IE into the OS in order to give IE competitive advantages over other web browsers (immediate access, quicker load times, engineering advantages as detailed below). Apple built in the App Store to allow people to pay for additional software. There’s no reason why Apple shouldn’t get a cut since it a) invented the platform, b) targeted the users, c) paid for its R&D and marketing teams to d) put television ads showing developer products, all while e) continuing to improve an already-juicy platform so that they retain f) a legitimate and clearly-won hold on their own product’s adoption.

  • Heh… I think we were talking about how neither of your points holds water and about why you comment anonymously :-)

    Things remind people of other things all the time. I don’t care about page views, I have only looked at the Google analytics or PageBurner(?) for this site (which I think are still installed) maybe twice in about 4 years. I’m always surprised when anyone comments.

    You obviously have a horse in this race. I don’t.

  • Wheezy

    Tch tch… I’d prefer not to enter into an extended debate on this since it’s really just not worth the time and energy, but don’t you think it’s just a *little* disingenuous to say you “don’t really care” and then split semantic hairs about saying Apple merely /reminds/ you of Microsoft rather than just coming right out and saying “Apple is Microsoft?” That would get you more page views, at least, and not be the semantic equivalent of making a strong statement like “Hey, you remind me of HITLER!” and then backing away when offense was taken with the weak excuse that you didn’t actually /call/ that person Hitler, you merely said they “reminded” you of him. Uh huh. In any case, now that I’ve invoked Godwin’s Law, we can probably end the thread here. :-)

  • I don’t think either of your points holds water. The rules of the road were not known in advance. That’s what all the heat is about. If you asked windows users if they were happy, they’d have told you they were – which had nothing to do with the legal question of whether Microsoft were breaking the law.

    BTW, this doesn’t irritate me personally in any way. I actually don’t really care, and am the happy owner (or purchaser for my kids) of at least 7 Apple devices that are mostly in daily use. If you read what I wrote, I simply said that Apple’s behavior *reminds* me of Microsoft. I haven’t expressed an opinion about it. I also have the guts to put my real name on my post.

    It reminds other people of the Microsoft case too, apparently:

  • Wheezy

    Hmm. One is reminded of a revolutionary claiming to represent some greater good for society at large when, in fact, they’re really only interested in removing road blocks that irritate them personally, after which society and the greater good is generally left to fend for itself (if prior experience with revolutionary types is any gauge).

    1. Apple created the marketplace in question from whole cloth – who is anyone to say that it somehow does not “deserve” to control the destiny of that same marketplace or is somehow “strong arming” developers who have made a conscious choice to participate in it, knowing full well what the rules of the road were in advance?

    2. The user experience (remember the users?) does not seem to suggest that the users themselves are clamoring for the freedom to run malware (c.f. Android’s recent embarrassment) or participate in an unrestrained marketplace with all of the security and decorum of a typical middle-eastern Souq. Rather than claiming (at least by inference) to speak for such folks and their human rights which are somehow being trampled, you might do better to ask the users themselves whether they are chafing under the bitter yoke of tyranny or, in fact, are quite happy to not even have to worry about where their apps are coming from or what terrible things they might be trying to do when first run.

  • Pete S

    What most people don’t realize is that the bundling of IE and Windows was originally a purely engineering decision; using IE’s HTML rendering engine made sense for much of the Windows UI, especially for Explorer. So, I don’t see the analogy at all.

    Anyway, why is it that in a capitalist country that when someone succeeds, all the losers start bitching. Stupid.

    Apple’s behavior, regarding its platform is what makes this country unique and what makes it a technological and economic (generally) superpower.

  • Hag

    I don’t think it’s a similar case. Apple wants to get paid for stuff sold on their platform. It’s about the payment, not the app store. If Sony or whoever said “we’ll pay your cut, you can audit, but we’ll do it on our site” I don’t think Apple would have a problem with it.

  • Part of me riles at people complaining about Apple leveraging their app store. I like to see companies take creative risks and succeed. Milk it. People undervalue being the first to conceive something *and* make it real. We want to reward that behaviour, not penalise it. App stores are obvious, right? Well, if apple hadn’t built theirs and shown how that business model works nobody would probably care much – everybody would still be worrying about RIM and Nokia. This part of me says: ‘Good on them’. Teach everybody else that unless you can be creative you lose. As compelling as it seems (to me), it is a false argument – obviously a monopoly stifles innovation (although I don’t see how taking a cut of ebook sales is an example of it). The question is only how long they get to keep it for.

    So the other part of me sees the natural cycle. There will always be leaders and people who want to overtake them at any cost. The leaders can try to fortify their position against inevitable siege, or they can keep innovating. I think Apple understands this exceptionally well. They are running in a direction faster than anyone else can, while laying ditches and caltrops behind them. Apple will fight to keep control of its ecosystem, but not forever, because by the time the laggards finally storm the castle, Apple will have created a new battlefield. Can they keep this game up? I hope so :)

    btw – Microsoft bundling explorer with windows was not an example of a daring creative edge delivering a winning ecosystem. It was meh at best :) I think this factor should take into account in a court of law: ‘Is it as boring as watching paint dry? Yes? Split it up then.’

  • Terry-

    You “nailed” this! It’s LONG overdue for BOTH Google & Apple to receive the same degree of scrutiny & oversight that Microsoft got back in the 90’s!

    Come on down Congressman Darrell Issa, you have some hearings to be held (unfortunately for the consumer they are BOTH in his home state)…

  • I said what the solution to Apple’s inevitable problem should be back in 2007:

    Should Apple Turn iTunes Into A Platform?

    With this latest unbelievable move, people should start agitating for that or a universal store standard ALL devices tie into.