Apple is in an enviable position in the tech industry. Its iPhone is a major hit. Its App Store is quickly becoming an important component of its business. Everything seems to be going well. But there’s one problem with Apple that could lead to serious trouble down the road: It doesn’t know how to play nice with others. Believe it or not, that could be good for us all.
Earlier this week, word leaked that Palm filed a complaint with an industry watchdog group that monitors USB standards. Palm claimed that Apple is “hampering” competition in the market by not allowing Palm Pre users to access iTunes. The complaint also discussed how the Pre makes iTunes think it’s an iPod and thus allows users to work with Apple’s software as if it were running on an Apple device.
That news came on the heels of Apple’s decision to block Google Voice, an up-and-coming telephony service from the search giant. Apple claimed that it denied Google Voice entrance into the App Store because it offered features too similar to those already in the iPhone.
The blogosphere exploded in outrage. Apple was getting hit from all sides over its decision to block the app. And yet, the company stayed silent, waiting as it always does for the news to blow over. Only, Google Voice hasn’t blown over. A quick search around the Web reveals that people are still upset with Apple over its decision to block Google Voice. They’re also miffed that Steve Jobs and co. won’t play nice with the Pre.
It’s good that Apple is facing so much pressure. It’s good for consumers. It’s good for the enterprise. It’s good for everyone-even Apple itself, although it refuses to see it that way. Apple has been able to do what it wants for too long. It has bullied small developers. But now, it’s facing some real competition and, for the first time in a while, it’s facing the blogosphere. It’s a three-front war right now. And it could benefit users. Here’s why:
1. Competition is good
Palm has a point when it claims Apple is “hampering” competition in the marketplace. Although I can understand that Apple wouldn’t want the Pre, an iPhone competitor, to access iTunes, Apple would still get a benefit from that. It might make Pre owners want to buy more songs. They might even fall in love with iTunes and want some Apple hardware. Everybody wins.
2. Apple has been a bully
If nothing else, these battles with Google and Palm have highlighted the fact that if Apple bullies the wrong group, it will face repercussions. How many times has Apple blocked third-party developers’ apps in the App Store for little or no reason? When it happens, it’s forgotten because, to be quite honest, those developers aren’t newsworthy. But Google and Palm are. And they won’t be bullied. That can only be good for consumers.
3. Apple needed pressure
It’s about time Apple felt some pressure. Apple has seemed almost above criticism with its unbroken string of successes with the iPod, iPhone and iTunes. But if Apple continues to come under pressure for the way it is wielding its market power, it will eventually realize that it needs to mend its ways. It can’t continue to be so cavalier in its dismissal of complaints-especially if it starts to fall under serious regulatory scrutiny.
Users Will Win in the End
4. Palm can change things
I firmly believe that if Palm continues to pursue its battle with Apple, things could change. More companies might jump on the bandwagon. More complaints against Apple will come on the heels of Palm’s. Apple will be forced to respond. And in the process, consumers and enterprise customers could benefit.
5. Apple will respond
To reiterate, if the complaints keep coming, Apple will have to respond eventually. It can’t afford not to. I believe that the company thought the Google Voice and Palm issue would quickly blow over. It hasn’t. Apple needs to address it before it gets out of hand and allows Palm to really change things.
6. More App Stores?
Apple’s move to reject applications and to keep competing devices out may backfire if other vendors set up competing app stores that can gain market share. Palm could welcome all those rejected apps. Google’s Android Market could accept them too. More apps means greater choice for consumers and a better user experience.
7. Apple is learning a lesson
Apple’s battles with Palm and Google might have taught the company something important: You can only push companies around for so long before it causes a backlash. Apple made the wrong choice with Google Voice. It played the Palm Pre situation improperly. It cost the company valuable mind share. It can’t let that happen again.
Apple might have learned to relax a little when it comes to the App Store. Sure, some features might be similar, but you know what? There’s nothing wrong with allowing them into the store for consumers to decide if they’re worthwhile. I understand that, in some cases, there are contractual obligations. But for those instances where there are not, Apple might have learned during this ordeal that it needs to relax its rules just a little bit.
9. Google isn’t to be messed with
Apple can beat up small developers. But Google is an entirely different story. It’s an extremely popular company. It’s bigger than Apple. It also has a huge following. When you upset Google (as Apple has), it might lead to trouble. And that’s some trouble that Apple doesn’t want. If Google decides to challenge Apple, it would mean more competition and more offerings for users and, in the end, it’s the consumer who wins.
10. The blogosphere can get things done
As powerful as Google and Palm are, it’s the blogosphere that could put serious pressure on Apple in the future. As long as bloggers are upset with Apple’s practices, the blogosphere will make it a key issue for the rest of the year. It will pester Apple. It will talk about Apple’s foibles in every blog post about the company. That’s extremely powerful. If millions of people across the globe are inundated with talk of Apple treating companies poorly, it’s a problem-readers might start to believe it.
So, as Apple’s battles continue to unfold, it seems that Apple must have learned some things. When the dust clears, users will benefit.