Legal

Apple vs. Adobe on antitrust: Should regulators dictate what's in an SDK?

The Feds are reportedly poking around on Apple's requirement that software developers only use its---or neutral---programming tools. Is an antitrust suit looming?

This is a guest post from Larry Dignan, Editor in Chief of ZDNet, TechRepublic's sister site. You can follow Larry on his ZDNet blog Between the Lines (or subscribe to the RSS feed).

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The Feds are reportedly poking around on Apple's requirement that software developers only use its-or neutral-programming tools.

The New York Post reports that the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are pondering an antitrust inquiry into Apple's Section 3.3.1 in its iPhone 4.0 software developer kit license agreement.

Here's the section, which is largely viewed as the no Adobe Flash allowed part:

3.3.1 - Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

Now the Feds may just poke around on the section and decide not to pursue an antitrust complaint. These inquiries are started to find out if there needs to be an antitrust suit. However, it's possible that either the DOJ or FTC will pursue something.

Although the Post's track record isn't exactly perfect-the paper is citing on unnamed source-an antitrust move does add up. Ever since Apple CEO Steve Jobs penned his Thoughts on Flash missive, which panned Adobe's software, noted a bevy of problems like stability and security and outlined why the iPhone and iPad don't support Flash, there has been a nagging question in my mind. That question can be summed up in one word: Why?

Why would Jobs post his Flash thoughts? Were developers whining about section 3.3.1? Was Adobe winning a PR offensive by saying Apple wasn't open? Could Adobe show damages? Why does Jobs have to make the case against Flash now?

Assuming the Post is correct, then Jobs' Flash rant makes a lot more sense. Jobs' blog post about Flash was really geared to regulators. His Flash rant outlines the reason Adobe's software is limited-a few of those points are hard to argue-and lays out Apple's rationale for section 3.3.1. In other words, Jobs is laying out the case for the Feds.

11 comments
manskybook
manskybook

Antitrust? Apple doesn't dominate the market in the same way that some suggested IBM did (or Microsoft does). Let's see... I have a phone operating system that is popular, but competes against both new and old OSs (Android, Symbian, Microsoft...) and it is used by 20-odd percent of the population. Maybe you don't like how Apple restricts its developers, but it is competing (perhaps for its life), and some of the other OSs are "open". Is it a case of unfair trade practices? Only if you consider that locking Adobe out would cause Adobe to fail. That would be a pretty hard case to make, given that Adobe has so many other willing partners (despite the fact that they don't have a working mobile Flash player). I agree with the person who says to question the Post. The language is just too inflammatory, and dangerously non-specific.

nonseq
nonseq

I hear over and over again that somehow Apple has a monopoly position or is anti-competitive and I just don't see it. Apple doesn't restrict choice for consumers, in my opinion. In fact Apple has paved the way for viable and useful competition in a vertical market that was certainly underserved and underperforming. Blackberry, Palm, and Win Mobile had a pretty limited range of things that could be done with mobile devices. The iPhone, while technologically not all that superior, opened the door for a flood of "iPhone Killers" and exciting mobile devices. Even more important, Apple really shines with User Interfaces and perception of quality. This sets the bar much higher for user experience than ever seen in the past and other manufacturers seem to be rising to the occassion. Sure, Apple has set up a walled garden and closed ecosystem but, in my opinion, that has been terrific for the vast majority of consumers who could care less about flash, open source, and technical specifications and it has created a perception of mobile devices that is incredible. The result, manufacturers who embrace Android, webOS (which I really like), Symbian and others (yeah I know I left out but I had an indifferent experience with Win Mobile on my Treo 700 so I may be tainted in my POV.) So I have to say that Apple has done nothing that even smacks of anti-trust. If you listen to those who point out the coming Android supremacy, how could Apple's marketshare be called anti-trust?

jfreedle2
jfreedle2

Do not get me wrong, Apple is the evil empire and needs to be shut down! But the government has no business dictating what a vendor allows to be done with their product. You have to realize one thing about that shiny new iPhone that is in your pocket, it is not your iPhone, it is Apple's iPhone. They can do whatever they want with it and you can do nothing about it.

valvestate
valvestate

Reading this I thought "The New York Post? Isn't that the National Enquirer of newspapers?" After the National Enquirer itself of course. Was it the NY Post that pointed to the section in the "software developer kit license agreement?" Why can't you verify it? What language is Flash Written in? Off the top of my head I know that Photoshop was written in C++, so I would assume that other Adobe products are as well or like some freeware that I'm familiar with it could be rewritten it in C++. I guess it's just easier to put in a meager disclaimer like "assuming the Post is correct" than actually do any research.

bikingbill
bikingbill

In this particular case, I don't think that Apple has enough of a monopoly position to justify anti-trust intervention. In general, I think that it is usually a bad thing when Governments get involved in defining technology rules as they usually stifle innovation and hence competition.

bboyd
bboyd

I would say that of Apple and its current form. Lets say sue our competition. or Limit user choices of venue or brick machines that users alter is some way outside our control. or Use draconian programmer constraints. or Make sure you can only access your data through one program system. or DRM the crap out of things. No sympathy if they get the government dogs baying. But they will just rouse the lawyers and political payments to form a six year wall of obstruction. maybe you remember the last one by microsoft.

Andrew Houghton
Andrew Houghton

Apple has the same/similar problem that IBM had in its anti-trust suit which forced open the third party market for devices, software, services, etc. The problem for Apple is that, like IBM, they *own* the entire channel from birth to death, e.g., they own the hardware, tools needed to create applications, distribution channel (app store), etc. Apple is on borrowed time, the government will continue to sniff around and will have no choice to act unless Apple opens up the walled channel they have created.

nonseq
nonseq

... and Apple has what, 25% or less, and that number is dwindling. In the IBM case there were less than a half dozen manufacturers who struggled with overcoming the perception that IBM was the only computer company. They were two completely different issues. It would be educational if someone at TR could factually compare the two.

Brenton Keegan
Brenton Keegan

I've mentioned this several other times in related threads. Apple's reason for wanting to push flash out of the picture is that it competes with one of their products. The Canvas element which is patented by Apple and is trying to be pushed as a part of HTML5. I don't know if this is a forum faux pas(linking to another thread within a thread) but I created a thread on this whole Adobe vs. Apple thing not too long ago: http://techrepublic.com.com/5208-6230-0.html?forumID=102&threadID=329892&tag=content;leftCol This goes a bit more into deal on what my thoughts are.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

I've seen how problematical Flash can be on Apple and PC hardware. Just because new hardware has the capacity doesn't mean you have to use it all. How many of you drive 120mph in your cars? What would you think if you were forced to drive 120mph in your car? In essence, this is what Flash does.

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