Could Apple eventually gain monopoly status in one or more businesses, and become as "evil" (or worse) as Microsoft was when regulators went after them in the 1990s? Windows pundit Paul Thurrott thinks so, and thinks it's time to act now before it's too late.
Now, Thurrott is an interesting dichotomy, well-balanced on his Windows Weekly podcast yet Dvorak'ian in link-baiting on his blog. He's pro Microsoft all the way, but has still been unable to find anything as compelling as the iPhone or iPod in their respective spaces. So, assuming we're dealing with the more even handed podcasting and iPhone-using Thurrott, and we're not just biting his baited link, his argument here is this:
until very recently, Apple was the underdog, and they've been the underdog for almost their entire existence. This creates a certain mindset, and under Steve Jobs especially, it's created a very aggressive competitive spirit. This aggressiveness is fine when you are literally the underdog, just as was the case with Microsoft early in its career and it was trying to wrest the PC industry from IBM, Lotus, WordPerfect, and other tech dinosaurs. But once you have a dominant market position, that aggressive behavior--so important for an up-and-comer--isn't just bad, it's illegal. It's just hard to turn it off when it's been part of the corporate psyche for so long.
With this obvious comparison of two very similarly belligerent companies--Microsoft of the mid-1990s and Apple of today--in mind, I think the time has come to rein Apple in. To examine Apple's exclusive relationships with wireless carriers. To force it to open up iTunes to competing players, and its iPhone and iPod devices to competing software and services. If we don't do this now, it will only be more difficult in the future. All you have to do is look at Microsoft's never-ending antitrust saga--which has now stretched on for 15 years, involved regulatory bodies on three continents, and gone on far longer than its actual bad behavior--to see why it's time.
Apple is not yet a monopoly in any real business. They may own the Mac and the iPhone outright, but those are tiny blips in the big PC space and the increasingly vast smartphone space. Apple likely will never be a smartphone monopoly, and artificially defining a "consumer smartphone" is like defining a "Redmond MP3 player" space and pondering Zune regulation.
Speaking of MP3 players, in that space Apple could arguably be approaching monopoly status, though the market according to Apple themselves is now fading (hence their development of the iPhone). Even if Apple does mathematically hold an effective MP3 monopoly at some point, that's not illegal. Abusing such a monopoly would be, for example forcing Best Buy not to carry Zune's if they want iPods.
Otherwise, much as I (and Thurrott himself) find the notion of the EU's constant browser bashing of Microsoft ridiculous given the advances of Firefox and WebKit (Safari and Chrome), the idea of forcing open what's essentially content management software like iTunes is equally silly. (Note: Not letting iTunes run on Windows is a specious parallel, iTunes is an app, not a platform). What's next, PS3 isn't getting a fair shake so we have to force Nintendo to allow PS3 games and license Mario? Sigh.
As to movies and TV shows, if Big Media would drop their consumer-hostile DRM schemes, then just like MP3 both Apple and Microsoft (and others) could sell unlocked movies and TV Shows that users could play on or move between any device. That's not an Apple problem, it's a Hollywood problem, and consumers should channel that rage appropriately (especially towards legislators who are heavily funded and lobbied by Hollywood to "protect" their content from us evil customers).
Personally, I never left Microsoft because I thought they were "evil" (IE6 aside, of course), I left because I found better device(s) to suit my needs from another company (while Microsoft was being punished by the DOJ and EU, fancy that). If that happens again with Apple, I'll likely move again.
Maybe to Android. Oh, wait, Google is a monopoly in search and online advertising, and is slowly ensconcing themselves on every device and harvesting my data for... what? Maybe they're evil and should be stopped right now as well?
Slope, meet slippery.
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