Allegations of anti-trust abuse have summoned Apple to Congress. Technology entrepreneurs presented the strategies Apple uses to cripple third-party developers.
By Chand Bellur
January 19, 2020 at 7:17 p.m. PDT
App Store Monopoly Challenged Before Congress
If you own an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, you can only install apps from the App Store. macOS users can still side-load apps from the web, after accepting an ominous warning. Popular software, such as Ableton Live 10 and myriad software development tools are sold outside of the macOS AppStore.
Technology entrepreneurs are speaking out about Apple’s mobile App Store monopoly. Third-party developers are forced to pay out 30% of app revenues, in exchange for hosting a file and automated billing.
Apple defends this practice, claiming that it protects user privacy. Apps installed from the web or potential third-party app markets could contain malware. Unvetted apps could also compromise user privacy, as third-party developers would be able to exploit personal data.
Ruby on Rails creator and Basecamp founder David Heinemeier Hansson commented on Apple’s Kafkaesque app approval process:
“Every application maker using the App Store lives in fear that their application is denied… All it takes is being assigned the wrong clerk, then you’ll be stuck in an appeals process that would make Kafka blush.”
Tile Takes Apple to Task on Capital Hill
Tile’s General Counsel, Kirsten Daru, alleges that Apple is shutting out their popular tracking device to profit from a copycat product. Apple’s newest operating system repeatedly warns users about apps using Location Services in the background. This may cause some users to turn off tracking, compromising the effectiveness of Tile and other location-aware devices.
Furthermore, Tile and other third-party developers are not able to access new iPhone hardware features that enable persistent location tracking. Apple also removed the popular tracking device from the Apple Store, adding to Tile’s competitive difficulties.
The Cupertino company once again rationalizes this behavior with privacy concerns:
“Customers have control over their location data, including the location of their device. If a user doesn’t want to enable these features, there’s a clear, easy to understand setting where they can choose exactly which location services they want enabled or disabled.”
Apple’s location warnings in iOS 13 allow developers to add a custom message for end users. Unfortunately, many iPhone users don’t read, understand or trust these messages, and may disable Location Services for that app. When their location-aware device doesn’t work as expected, they may very well blame the third-party company and opt for Apple’s alternative.
Given the complexity of anti-trust proceedings, any action is likely years away. Most consumers feel indifferent about where they purchase their apps. The end result of this battle will largely be decided by smaller corporations battling one of the largest tech titans in the world.