Apple's War Against Google: Time For New Tactics

Apple should spend more energy innovating and enabling its developers to innovate and less energy on policing. That's how it will stay ahead of Google.
Apple lost the desktop war to Microsoft, though its armistice treaty with Microsoft--when Microsoft bought $150 million in preferred Apple shares in 1997--helped Apple survive long enough for Steve Jobs to turn things around.

Apple has dominated the mobile era, but Google has been closing the gap. Apple should remain a leader for years, but Google will not be crushed the way Apple was by Microsoft at the height of its power.

The Internet of Things will require partnerships, openness, and connectivity. It will be a continuation of existing computing trends: Computers started as room-sized behemoths, got smaller, and ended up on desktops. Then they became luggable, portable, and finally mobile. Soon mobility won't matter: Computers and networked things will be everywhere. Take a look at what Samsung has done with TecTiles and extrapolate from there.

Phones, tablets, and computers will be obvious interfaces for the networked world. Augmented reality glasses too, and TVs with Kinect-like gesture capture. But the ecosystem won't matter as much; the Web will supplant the operating system and app store. Apps have enjoyed supremacy because Web technologies have been slow to mature, to accommodate touch interaction, and to incorporate offline functionality. That will pass.

While Apple has demonstrated its ability to orchestrate a vital ecosystem through iTunes, iOS, and OS X, its desire to control everything and take a cut will be its downfall. The success of Apple's ecosystem has a lot to do with the quality of Apple's products. But it also has to do with Android's late start, subpar software development kit releases, version fragmentation, and lack of mobile carrier coordination. For everything Apple did right, Google was doing something wrong.

But that's changing. Google is now a hardware company, thanks to its acquisition of Motorola Mobility. It has bought arms for the patent war. It has learned from its mistakes--direct phone sales, Google TV 1.0, and so on. It isn't yet the finely tuned, focused machine that is Apple, but it's becoming a lot more like Apple.

Apple is becoming more like Google, too: It owns an ad company, has invested in maps, voice interaction, and cloud services. But it could do more. Apple needs to do less toll-taking and more enabling, even if there's no immediate revenue benefit to Apple in so doing.

The company's recent rejection of Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil Speakers Touch 3 app offers an example of unnecessary heavy-handedness. Airfoil Speakers Touch 3 had a feature that allowed users to receive AirPlay audio from another iOS device or from iTunes directly. Apple removed the app, citing developer rules violations.

"You may be asking why Apple would want to prevent users from having this functionality," Rogue Amoeba CEO Paul Kafasis said in a blog post. "Only Apple can provide a full answer here. We do know that Airfoil Speakers Touch's ability to receive audio directly from iTunes and iOS enabled some users to forgo purchasing expensive AirPlay hardware, hardware which Apple licenses. It seems Apple has chosen to use their gatekeeper powers to simply prevent competition."

Apple encrypts AirPlay, and Rogue Amoeba's software defeated that encryption, which presumably represents the rules violation Apple cited. Rogue Amoeba defends its actions as allowable under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for purposes of interoperability. Apple's rules however render the company's legal argument irrelevant. Apple is within its rights, yet what it is doing is unnecessary. It is limiting competition and it doesn't have to.

Apple should be using licensing programs like AirPlay and MiFi to promote innovation on its platform rather than stifle it. It should relax its content limitations for apps and focus on technical criteria for approval. It should design apps like iAd Creator and iBook Author with an eye toward interoperability instead of hamstringing them with contractual restrictions.

Apple should spend more energy innovating and enabling its developers to innovate and less energy on policing. That's how it will stay ahead of Google.

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