“Let my cars on your race track, sir.”

Today, reading tech news, I got some inspiration for my first tech related blog post. Surprisingly, it’s about Apple. A great deal has been written about these things already, so why another blog post? Quite simply because I can’t wrap my head around why this stuff is not instantly dismissed due to sheer obviousness, but read on for my opinion on the FTC—and now EU—investigation of the anti-competitiveness of Apple Inc. I’ll try to make it clear and keep it short.

The FTC probe in question seems to be mostly based on Apple not allowing all development tools known to mankind to be used for the writing/compiling of native—that is sold in the App Store—iPhone applications. In addition, the exclusion of Flash from the browser seems to be part of the investigation. Now, the EU has purportedly joined the FTC in this endeavour.

In short, I completely fail to see why any regulating body would need to occupy themselves about the use of development tools for iOS or what browser tech should be used in those devices. It seems to me at the core of the matter is this: an irrational feeling of entitlement has befallen nigh everybody when it comes to Apple’s mobile platform.

The first part of the mistake is the assumption that all of a sudden a mobile phone must be the same as an open PC platform. Let’s think back to how the world looked in 2006. You know, the world where you did not run little apps on your touch screen enabled device (well, one that works anyway). Was anybody complaining about the fact that you could not install something on a Nokia, Samsung, or Motorola phone? Also, remember how every “feature” phone back in 2006 that had the audacity to omit a Java runtime-environment was subject to an FTC probe? No? So obviously the notion that you should be able to develop any way you want for your phone is a rather recent one (does it apply to the Blackberry, by the way? But I digress).

You see, the issue I have with the whole “let’s open Apple up” mentality is, I just don’t see why anybody but Apple has any business deciding what apps should be allowed to run on their devices. Why? Because it was not advertised as a “do what you want” platform! At what point in the agreement between the customer and Apple was there any part about, “The developers and the customers will decide what Apple’s new platform must look like, not Apple”? It’s about freedom? Why should one not be free to use a “walled-garden experience” phone? What if—and I actually think they’d be right—Apple truly thinks that cross-compiling UIs will make the experience you have with the phone markedly worse?

“But Microsoft is always under observation and threatened to be regulated, no?” True, yet I claim that this is completely—and rather obviously—different. Why are open PC platforms etc. different? Because the claim was, from the very inception of x86 (or Mac) platforms, that the OS and all following compatible platforms will run all code that was written for said OS, regardless of provenance and quality. DOS and whatever competed/followed was “open” by design. After the user of such a computer made the purchase he could lay claim that indeed, henceforth, he shall expect a platform with open development tools and free installation decisions. If you will, on Windows you are—by virtue of the arrangement with the vendor—entitled to do with your system whatever you want. Compare this to iOS, where—this is key—no such agreement, or promise, ever existed.

I claim that everybody has gotten so used to this “freedom to frak up your system and do with it what you will” that they forget that Apple never promised you could do anything similar with the iPhone/iPad. It’s downright ridiculous that Adobe comes out and says that Apple hinders the free flow of development because there never was any talk that there would be any such thing!

iOS, in this regard, is—from the perspective of command line savvy folk—at a disadvantage due to the fact that the underlying UNIX tech is well known material to developers (meaning that the iPhone’s software architecture alone makes it a brother of the open computer of sorts—software intestines-wise). And this, I assume, is at the bottom of the second reason for this weird feeling of entitlement. Programming folk think, as they know how to code on this thing, that they should be allowed to use any tools they like to get apps done and out to market. But this is like saying, “You know, Apple built this new race track and—exactly as their public roads before—lo and behold, it’s made of Tarmac! Since we know how to build cars that can drive on Tarmac, we want to drive on Apple’s new race track. Open the track up. Tear down the walls!” Take a minute to think about it: Apple builds a race track. Apple decides that only certain race cars are allowed on the track. Apple never says that you could drive your normal Toyota on the track. Apple also never said you could build a similar (but less enjoyable) race car in an Adobe race car factory and use that. But some customers and developers seem to be saying, “But we so want to drive Toyotas and custom race cars on Apple’s track! Uncle Effteeceeeee! Aunt Eeyouuuu!” They want the FTC to go, “You’ve got yourselves a nice race track there, Mr Jobs, now let Adobe’s cars on it. Or no TV before bed!” Would anybody in their right mind say this makes any sense?

As for Adobe, is their business hindered by Apple’s refusal to allow them to build apps for iOS? Sure, but unfairly so? No. Do they have a right to own a development environment for iOS? Only if one follows the x86/Mac architecture logic. On an a priori open platform, hindering a supplier of dev-tools to have them used would indeed be anti-competitive, that much is certain. But this is not an open platform (again, nobody ever claimed it was). Adobe is the supplier of unlicenced car kits here. A car that is built using them is not allowed to drive on Apple’s track. Why is that so difficult to understand?

So let’s move to the argument that the world now needs an open platform like DOS/Windows on the mobile market because otherwise Apple will control TEH EVERYTHINGZ (add exclamation marks and ones/elevens if you will). I must’ve missed the memo about the iPhone reaching monopoly status amongst mobile devices. Frankly, as an aside, I am rather flabbergasted that so few people are worried about the FUD that Google spreads about openness while secretly also controlling their platform (just with a layer of hypocrisy and stealth that Apple, contrary to what some may say, does not have), meanwhile trying to monopolise mobile search and advertising in the most aggressive way, while trying to artificially divide up the internet.

So, if iOS ever truly becomes the infrastructure for mobile devices, then yes, I would argue that regulation is necessary. This is not the case, though. And frankly, I think Apple does not want this to become the case. At the end of the day, they would rather have 30 % market share and full control of the user experience than 90 % and an open field of mediocre rubbish (I’d say they are already unhappy with so much that is mediocre and rubbish on the App Store). Anybody thinks not going for sheer market share does not make sense from a business perspective? Think about what becoming commoditised does to profit margins compared to a premium sales model where one can charge more for a vertically integrated—arguably superior—user experience, and you have a reason for the record earnings of a certain AAPL.

Finally, near everything I said above is true for Flash in the browser (and it has been said a great many times in all sorts of places): Apple never said that Flash would run on iPhones or iPads, and customers getting iOS devices have not been deceived about it. Most importantly, why should anybody else decide for Apple that Flash must be included in the browser? Apple does not block the content here. Arguing that Flash is needed to deliver content is stupid. It may make it easier to implement for some, but again, ease of implementation is no human right. Adobe wants to have revenue from content delivery? They are free to write awesome authoring software that will output iOS compatible stuff.

Based on all of this, how can one argue that if regulation were put into place it would be anything but farcical. That’s my five yen, anyway.

Follow me on Twitter @donsqueak


2 Responses

  1. Terrific article, Don. I would amend one small bit:

    > Adobe wants to have revenue from content delivery? They are free to write awesome authoring software that will output iOS compatible stuff.

    It took me a minute to realize this was still in the Flash-in-the-browser context. You should clarify that you mean Adobe could adapt their authoring software to output HTML5-compatible animations/video/etc. to end-run around the lack of Flash in Mobile Safari.

    The distinction is important because Adobe did adapt their Flash authoring software to output iOS-native application binaries that could be submitted to the App Store, which is what triggered Apple’s lockdown in the first place. As written, your sentence seems to suggest they do precisely that which they already tried to do and got shot down for. (Wow, that was a bad sentence.) When I think you’re actually speaking specifically about browser technologies (Flash plugin v. HTML5).

    Otherwise stellar article and analysis!

  2. Excellent post. I find it ironic that Adobe is whining about Apple not being open enough when the Flash format (.fla) has always been proprietary. This has long been a complaint about Flash, in fact, and a big part of the reason why people are excited about the possibilities offered by HTML5 Canvas & Video. Adobe is rightly fearful of these new developments. I’m sure Flash will be around for a while, but the writing is on the wall. Unless they update their authoring software with HTML5 export capability that blows people away, will anyone want to fork over the cash for expensive upgrades in a few years?

    I was at a conference focused on Flash in 2002 and it was described as the future of mobile — “but phones aren’t quite ready.” Well, we know where that is 8 years later. Flash is still a hog, but Adobe wants to pin their lack of success in mobile on Apple. Good luck, guys.

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