The Chinaization of Apple

Many years ago, when Chairman Mao first met the Dalai Lama, he concluded the meeting by warning the young Tibetan monk that, “Religion was poison”. Last week, with Apple’s revisions to Section 3.3.1 of its Developer SDK agreement, essentially banning non-Apple sanctioned third party development frameworks, and in particular,  Adobe’s Flash compiler for the iPhone, Chairman Jobs has finally completed Apple’s Long March to Chinaization.

Not only does Apple ban iPhone applications that mimic basic functions already offered by Apple’s own iPhone offerings, the Google Voice app being an example of such rejection, but now developers are being told that their actual development tools must exclusively come from Apple. This essentially kills hundreds, if not thousands of applications developed with open source frameworks or third party development tools. It also raises the possibility that Apple will come under renewed European and possibly American anti-trust investigation for what appears to be, at least on the surface, blatant anti-trust behavior.

On the first count, Apple is standing on a very weak legal precedent. Like Microsoft’s argument over ten years ago, that Internet Explorer was irrevocably linked to the Windows desktop, Apple’s claim to exclusivity for it’s iPhone applications is troublesome. The mantra-like rationale being that consumers get the very best applications that meet Apple’s extremely high standards. Surely, however, consumers should be given the privilege to pick and choose between browsers, mail applications and 3G/4G voice tools they wish to use. And surely Apple should not be allowed to cherry pick those applications based on their country of origin (read Cupertino, CA) simply because they are the iPhone OS platform landlord.

Landlords, whether they be of the brick and mortar type or those working in  intellectual property space such as Apple, need to observe rules of commerce just like anyone else. And those rules are clear as illustrated by the European Union’s recent settlement with Microsoft allowing consumers to choose which browser they install in a Windows environment. The principle being that multiple applications within any software category ensure consumer choice. And consumer choice is good since there is a high level of competition which almost invariably results in a higher standard of product quality.

On the second count,  Apple is treading upon anti-trust law. To dictate that only Apple created shovels and pitchforks can be used to build software for the iPhone platform, is preposterous. Again, to return to the Microsoft example, even at Microsoft’s most maniacal anti-trust moments, the company encouraged multiple compiler vendors to make their tools available to developers. Names like Borland and many others could be cited as an example. If Microsoft had gone the extra distance of proclaiming that only their Visual C++ compiler would be the de-facto sanctioned compiler for Windows applications, then U.S. courts and most definitely, the European Union would have quickly interceded.

As the Chinese government loves to remind its critics when reacting to unpopular policies like Internet censorship, jailing dissidents and currency manipulation, they will not allow outside interference in their internal affairs. Chairman Jobs and Apple are making the same argument over application choice and developer tools, but in this case, they just happen to be making these announcements from Cupertino, California which is a problem.

It’s high time, therefore, that Apple come under investigation for its anti-competitive practices to ensure more openness and fairness on the iPhone playing field. To do nothing, will lead to a second cultural revolution whereby programmers, third party framework developers and even open source advocates will be ostracized from competing with Apple and not having their wares available in the App Store. That’s bad for consumer choice and it’s bad for iPhone application development.

Alternatively, Chairman Jobs could move Apple and all its employees to Shenzhen in southern China where the iPhone is actually manufactured to avoid the possibility of any governmental oversight. That would cement Apple’s Chinaization.

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