With the looming shadow of antitrust, plenty of folks are talking about whether or not Apple is abusing its position. Specifically, they claim that Apple has a conflict of interests by running the App Store and also creating its own software tools.
Former Macintosh division boss Jean-Louis Gassée is now wading into the argument. Gassée says that people calling antitrust on Apple haven’t considered the number of jobs Apple has created through the App Store.
In his latest column for Monday Note, the former Apple exec notes that, “We have critics — who’ve never had to make payroll — who think that the arrangement is an abuse of power.” Gassée continues that commenting on antitrust law and electoral politics “is above my paygrade.” But he opines that:
“[While a recent Washington Post article] laments the plight of the developer whose idea is ‘stolen’ by Apple, nowhere does it mention the jobs that are attributed to the App Store ecosystem, or the massive revenue flow that it creates.”
Apple has frequently talked up the millions of jobs it creates through the App Store. It gives independent developers the opportunity to make software for Apple devices and easily distribute it at minimal up-front cost. Apple instead takes a cut of sales made through the App Store.
The risk of Sherlocking in the App Store
Gassée writes that there is a risk of ideas being “Sherlocked” by larger companies. However, he notes that, “this is a risk … that seems well worth it to a huge majority, if App Store numbers are to be believed.”
Finally, he argues that companies should not necessarily ignore it if a “developer shows the way.” Adding tools which were once one-off apps into operating systems can have plenty of benefits to the user since it can be baked into devices. For example, it can make the resulting apps more intuitive and easier to use. One example of this might be something like the old torch app, which Apple later wound up incorporating (at least a very similar version of) in iOS.
The former Mac team boss continues that:
“[W]ithout getting too deep into lawyerly craft, we should keep in mind that intellectual property law only protects the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves … [T]he fact remains that in order to be successful, a business must constantly be on the lookout for new ideas.”
App Store conflict of interests
Complaints about the possible conflict of interests Apple has with the App Store have ramped up in recent times. Elizabeth Warren has been a particularly vocal proponent of this. In 2016, she accused Apple of abusing its control of the App Store to hinder competition. More recently, she proposed breaking up tech giants, saying they had, “bulldozed competition.”
One of the big app developers to complain is Spotify. In March, Spotify filed a complaint with European regulators. It is upset about the way that Apple charges it money for selling subscriptions through the App Store.
Third-party apps which produce screen time-tracking tools have also hit out at Apple over its Screen Time feature.
Apple denies doing anything wrong
Apple denies favoring its own apps over third-party titles. This week, it said that a new algorithm will actually handicap its own apps versus those of the competition. So far, it seems that Apple isn’t among those companies being investigated for antitrust violations. But this is a big topic and it’s one that’s not going to get resolved immediately. It’s therefore interesting to hear the likes of Gassée bring his years of experience to the topic.
Agree? Disagree? What do you think of Apple’s role as both a creator of apps and ruler of the App Store? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.