A couple of news items this week have vindicated some opinions I’d previously expressed here, and they’re all about Apple, so how can I can pass up the opportunity to note them, right?
A while back I wrote that as long as iOS devices had a standards-compliant browser, innovation would be safe:
Apple has come under fire by some supporters of an open internet and open software platforms such as Jonathan Zittrain and Tim Wu, who argue that Apple’s walled garden approach to devices and software will lead us to a more controlled and less innovative world. In particular, they point to the app store and Apple’s zealous control over what apps consumers are allowed to purchase and run on their devices. Here’s the thing, though: Every Apple device comes with a web browser. A web browser is an escape hatch from Apple’s walled garden. And Apple has taken a backseat to no one in nurturing an open web.
This week comes word that the Financial Times, unhappy with having to give Apple a 30% cut of it’s subscription revenues, has dropped its iOS app in favor of a web app. Read the story; it’s quite interesting. As far as I can tell, the web app, written in cutting edge HTML5, is as good as the native app.
The second piece of news is that Apple has quietly backed down from its controversial requirement that an in-app newspaper or magazine subscription be the “same price or less than it is offered outside the app”. “Apple also removed the requirement that external subscriptions must be also offered as an in-app purchase.”
What this tells me is that the market works, and when companies make boneheaded moves, they can’t force users or publishers to go along with it by sheer will. Back when the subscription issue was blowing up I wrote that Apple did not have the market power to make this stick:
Digital publishing is very much a contestable market. I hardly need to point out that the day after Apple’s announcement, Google made public its own very competitive subscription service. And while the iPad is ahead of the game right now, Android tablets are only now beginning to hit the market. If declining iPhone market share is any indication, Android will nip at Apple’s heels in the tablet space as well. And let’s not forget other formidable (and somewhat-formidable) competitors in the likes of HP’s WebOS, Microsoft-Nokia, and RIM.
Let’s now talk about the real threat to app innovation. There’s news today that Apple has finally caved in to political pressure from members of Congress and banned DUI checkpoint apps from the app store. RIM had already complied, and Google has yet to respond. You can see, though, how apps are more susceptible to nanny state meddling than to monopolization.