On Apple terminating Epic’s E.U. Developer Account

Daring Fireball: Apple Terminated Epic’s E.U. Developer Account:

I guess Epic is implying that the EU government, not Apple, should have that discretion? They don’t say so, but who else but Apple could have that discretion? But the European Commission isn’t set up for that sort of police work. That’s not how the EC works. The DMA doesn’t say that the EC now runs app marketplaces.

Actually, regulating markets is exactly the thing that the European Union is set up to do – the foundation of the EU as a whole is the Single Market, and anything which threatens to fragment the single market into something smaller, under private control, is to be resisted at all costs.

As Baldur Bjarnason put it in an excellent post recently:

Much like roaming, App Stores let private companies subdivide and control the single market to their own financial gain. When much of the digital economy is taking place on phones, tablets, and various other devices that are largely limited to App Stores, this is effectively ceding the single market to a fragmented market that’s entirely under corporate control. This is against the core operating theory behind the EU.

What Apple isn’t getting is this isn’t something that the EU is going to roll over for. As Baldur also notes, this is explicit in the naming and intention of the Digital Markets Act – whenever you see the word “market” in EU regulation it’s a tell that the intention is to bring an area into the scope of the single market, when the EU believes it has been out of alignment.

Regulating markets isn’t just a small thing for the EU. It’s existential. As Baldur puts it:

To Apple, the App Store is a side line. To the EU, the single market is the foundation of its existence. Any time you see two entities of similar size fight, bet on the one that thinks it’s fighting for its life.

Later on, John mentions that Spotify has been as publicly-critical of Apple as Epic, and it hasn’t had its developer account revoked.

Spotify, for example, is just as vociferous a corporate critic of the App Store as Epic is, and Apple hasn’t threatened them with revocation of Spotify’s developer program membership. The difference between Spotify and Epic isn’t in their rhetoric; it’s in their past behavior.

There’s another key difference: revoking Spotify would be a much bigger deal, both practically and politically. Spotify has around a third of all streaming music users, double its nearest competitor – which happens to be Apple. Spotify has 226 million paying subscribers, and a lot of them will use iPhones. Being told they can no longer use their Spotify account would undoubtedly mean that next upgrade cycle some of them would choose to move to Android.

The politics would also be terrible. Using your power over a market to ban the number one service where you are number two is exactly the kind of move which would land Apple in a world of legal pain. By comparison, banning Epic was nothing.

The level of bad behaviour that Spotify would have to get up to in order to Apple to ban them would have to be so egregious, obvious and public that ignoring it imposed a bigger cost than removing their developer status. I’m not sure what that might be. Given that Apple never ever blinked when Facebook was complicit in genocide, I can’t imagine what Spotify would need to do to get banned. Launch its own nuclear weapons? Despite Apple’s protestations, the rules of the App Store game are very different for developers that are strategically important to Apple.

Why is Apple, a company that’s not exactly composed of B-Ark players, getting this so wrong? I wonder about this a lot. In my professional life, I’ve known a lot of people at Apple. I worked there for a short time. I was in daily contact with them while working on MacUser. 99.99% of those I’ve met have been good, smart people. Some of them are still friends.

I’m certain the same is true for John, and I would, not that long ago, have posed a very similar question to him:

But why not take an opportunity to look magnanimous? Apple shouldn’t be expected to grovel, but this looks like they’re going out of their way to look vindictive. I really thought it would be a clever bit of public relations jujitsu to make nice with Epic, even if, in Cupertino, it was through gritted teeth.

I think the answer to this lies in a gradual change I’ve seen in the way the company behaves since (and I hate saying this) Steve Jobs died. In her recent Burn Book, Kara Swisher cites something that Jobs said to her:

By 2010, Apple’s market valuation would surpass Microsoft’s, a major milestone. A week later, Jobs was back on the ATD stage and I asked him if he had a thought or two about that. “For those of us who have been in the industry a long time, it’s surreal,” he responded. “But it’s not why any of our customers buy our product. Remember what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Sometimes you just have to pick the things that look like they’re going to be the right horses moving forward. We’re trying to make great products. Have courage of our convictions … Customers pay us to make those choices. If we succeed, they’ll buy them, and if we don’t, they won’t.”

Jobs loved making money as much as the next billionaire, but not for the usual reasons. He didn’t regard it as a measure of him, personally. It was a measure of how much people loved Apple products, because they chose to buy the best. And when making products, the question of what delivered the best for the customer was always at the heart of decisions.

Apple today sees the App Store, too, as a product. It regards its role as delivering the best experience for customers, by keeping out crap apps, setting standards, making sure customers aren’t ripped off, and so on.

Which leads me back, again, to the last line of that Jobs quote: “Customers pay us to make those choices. If we succeed, they’ll buy them, and if we don’t, they won’t.” Jobs knew that the pressure of competition was what kept Apple – and all companies – honest.

With the App Store, customers aren’t allowed to choose. Apple doesn’t compete by being the best. Apple succeeds by being the only option – and that is corrosive to any company culture. My fear that it’s corroded Apple’s culture, too.

Ian Betteridge @ianbetteridge