Apple lays claim to all the money

The war over wealth & power continues. I’m not going to spell out the entire account of what has happened, but if you haven’t heard the whole affair, I would suggest listening to the Vergecast episode where it was discussed as I’m fairly fond of how they break it down.

The long and short of the story is two large companies (one being MUCH larger than the other, but both sizable) continue to fight over a slice of revenue. There’s no one to like in this story. Epic is calculating and despite their protestations, only looking to increase their cut of digital sales and power. Apple, on the other hand, continues to come off as a monster that is a bully at best and a monopolistic thief at worst. Despite initially rooting for Epic, I don’t think either company is one I favor. However, Apple’s rules need to relax and allow for customer choice and competition hence my initial desire to hope for Epic’s success. They’re both crap in this context, so I’m going to focus on Apple as I care less for Epic’s ultimate plans.

Apple seeks to continue to control their ecosystem and why shouldn’t they? Didn’t they build the App Store? Well, yes, they did, but I think there are issues with that point of view. First off, Apple has shown a distinct lack of recognition that the apps on the App Store give their platform value. The iPhone is_at least_ partially where it is due to the app ecosystem. Apple didn’t create that value, but rather third-party developers saw a mutually beneficial arrangement and created the value on top of Apple’s platform. They both made money, but Apple hasn’t kept up with the times and they’ve grown so big, that they’re stomping across the world in search of more money without any regard to these developers who helped them build something so great. Additionally, I have seen it argued and agree that once a platform reaches the ubiquity that Apple’s iOS has within the lives of the average person, the ecosystem ceases to be entirely Apple’s and must give way to some of the needs of that market in order to protect the consumers from being deprived of choice and freedom. Finally, there exists a lock-in to these mobile platforms with their app ecosystem where the financial and time cost of switching prevents consumers from leaving for the other entrenched massive corporate backed platform. Their walled garden, in the case of Apple, is part of the very reason the regulatory framework may be prompted to protect customers who can’t afford to leave.

I don’t expect Epic to prevail in their lawsuit, but I think this along with many other cases will push regulators to seize this moment and to seriously go after Apple. This will not be good for anyone I fear. On one hand, they might force changes to Apple’s most troublesome policies,_BUT_I hesitate to think that the governments of the world will, in this rare case, understand technology and take clean, concise and effective action to bring Apple in line. More likely, they will act, slowly and make the situation untenable in other ways by damaging the iOS ecosystem for the users they supposedly hope to protect.

My ideal situation would be for Apple to recognize the folly in its actions and take corrective action. The arrangement MUST be a win-win scenario for Apple and the developers on the App Store. If they’re not seeing value, then changes need to be made to maintain that central tenet of the arrangement. Also, in trying to force some rules, like IAP (In app purchase), Apple is making a decidedly worse situation for their users. Not being able to buy comics in Comixology or Kindle Books through the apps is painful for users and it is ridiculous to think that Apple’s belief in forcing everyone through their payment processing makes sense for both small and extremely large developers. If they don’t make these changes, I’m afraid the solutions may be more confusing and damaging in the form of side loading, alternative app stores, regulated policies, etc. These could very well be worse in some ways for Apple, developers and the users caught in the middle.