February 25, 2024
Apple's reluctant, punitive compliance with regulators will burn its political and developer goodwill | TechCrunch


Apple is on a roll when it comes to having its hand forced by state entities and governing bodies: Alternative payment methods, stripping features from existing hardware, allowing alternate app stores and genuine browser default competition — everywhere you turn it seems to be satisfying some reversal, owing either to trial judgments not going its way or to lawmakers regulating its preferred way of doing business out of existence.

Apple does not enjoy this, which should surprise exactly no one. What should be a tad more surprising is how willing Apple is to whine and mewl to its customers about how much it doesn’t like this, and about how it thinks this will be bad for them — the users, who Apple seems to consider its weak-willed wards in some regards.

“Across every change, Apple is introducing new safeguards that reduce — but don’t eliminate — new risks the DMA poses to EU users,” is text taken from Apple’s own press release announcing changes it’s making in iOS 17.4 that comply with the newly implemented Digital Markets Act in Europe. The release even includes, “For users, the changes include new controls and disclosures, and expanded protections to reduce privacy and security risks the DMA creates” directly as a second subhead in big, bold font.

Third-party app install vectors and things like sideloading, which is available on Android right now, indeed could pose additional risks for users who are uninformed and don’t take proper precautions or responsibility themselves to ensure they have good software hygiene and are installing reputable software from trustworthy sources. But Apple’s scaremongering is likely overstating the problem, since Android as mentioned has exposed users to this risk for quite a while now — and Mac and Windows devices have always done the same. Somehow, despite that, society remains intact and people are mostly okay with using those platforms with reasonable success.

Earlier this month, Apple also announced that developers would be able to link out to the web to tell them about alternative subscription methods for content available as digital purchases in-app. There were multiple catches, however, including that how and where that link appear are tightly controlled, and Apple has to provide special permission to apps to allow them to even do this to begin with. Also, the real kicker is that Apple says anyone who makes a purchase through that link owes it a 27% cut, and it throws up a scare sheet as the user is on their way out to follow your link as well.

It’s extremely understandable why Apple doesn’t want to make these changes; Apple’s control of the App Store, and its cut of purchases (typically 30%, with some exceptions) represents a significant chunk of its service revenue, which could have a material impact on earnings if eroded over time. What isn’t so understandable is just how petulant the company is being about prying open fingers on its tightly closed fist when it comes to compliance here.

Lawmakers are already looking to poke Apple’s monolithic business in various spots to see if it isn’t creeping into antitrust territory — or, as in Europe, already enacting laws to limit their control and power. Acting like a kicked puppy when it comes to actually putting these things into practice isn’t going to convince these regulators of Apple’s arguments that these kinds of measures aren’t needed and are in fact user hostile.

At best, it seems short-sighted: Yes, doing so will mean Apple’s revenue picture doesn’t materially change in the near-term. But it also means it looks like a company supremely unwilling to work with the spirit of lawmaker efforts to increase competition and reduce the influence that multi-trillion-dollar companies like Apple have on the world overall. And developers are increasingly irate at Apple’s antics. Those ill feelings likely won’t mean much for platforms like iOS, which have unparalleled install bases and therefore are unavoidable if you’re building a mobile consumer software business, but they will mean a lot for any future efforts to get emerging platforms off the ground — like the Apple Vision Pro.

It also means that Apple could be more susceptible to competitors among its core businesses; it may seem impossible at this point that iOS could ever lose its power position in the mobile market, but stranger things have happened, and developers feeling spurned and insulted enough will be more likely to wan too help replicate the iPhone lightning strike for someone else if things get bad enough.



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