Apple Facing Anti-Trust Threat Over App Store

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Apple could find itself the target of either a Department of Justice or Federal Trade Commission, according to an unnamed source

Apple may find itself under scrutiny by either the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission, according to an unnamed source quoted in a 3 May article in the New York Post. The newspaper suggested that the two agencies are “days away” from deciding which of them would pursue an actual investigation.

The Cupertino, Calif., company finds itself a potential target due to its new mobile-applications policy, suggests the article, which forbids the use of third-party development tools in the creation of apps for Apple’s App Store. Specifically, a clause in the developer agreement for the recently unveiled iPhone OS 4 stipulates “applications may only use Documents APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs” and that “applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs.”

Strict Development Model

That excludes applications built with tools such as Adobe Flash CS5, and may force developers to choose between building applications exclusively for Apple or for a smartphone ecosystem that supports those tools. Given the popularity of Apple’s platform among developers, and the extra work required to build multiple versions of an application for two or more different smartphone operating systems, that choice could have an effect on those other platforms’ ability to stay competitive—at least, that’s how government officials could be thinking ahead of any public announcement.

In the wake of Apple’s pronouncement, a number of companies had taken the liberty of embracing Google Android and other platforms. “Fortunately, the iPhone isn’t the only game in town,” Mike Chambers, a product manager for Adobe, wrote in a 20 April posting on his official blog. “Android based phones have been doing well behind the success of the Motorola Droid and Nexus One, and there have been a number of Android based tablets slated to be released this year.” What’s more, Chambers added, Adobe is working with Google to port Flash Player 10.1 and Adobe AIR 2.0 to Android devices.

Apple Rejects Flash

On 29 April, Apple CEO Steve Jobs published an open letter describing the company’s reasoning behind denying Flash support for its mobile products. In his mind at least, Flash lacked the surety, reliability and touch-compatibility necessary for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. “Adobe has characterised our decision as being primarily business-driven—they say we want to protect our App Store—but in reality it is based on technology issues,” he wrote.

“Apple has decided to kill the babies before they become strong,” Mike Sax, founder of and an iPhone application developer, told eWEEK in April. “Unfortunately, they ignore … that tools like Appcelerator, Mono and Flash are becoming popular primarily because of developer productivity, not their cross-platform capabilities. Apple’s mobile development tool set is lacking in developer productivity, with a unique language and no support for basic enhancements like garbage collection.”

The New York Post’s source offered no firm timetable for when the government may announce an antitrust investigation.

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