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So Has Apple Become Your Enemy?

Look at the picture some members of the media have painted about Apple. A company once regarded as “beleaguered” has now become a multinational colossus, with a market share third behind Exxon and Microsoft. With record sales and profits, it’s a sure thing that the company and its employees and shareholders are happy, but is the public interest being served?

Understand that it’s hard to justify the claim that Apple holds a stranglehold on the smartphone industry, since the company is in third place way behind Nokia and RIM. Even assuming steady growth on the part of the iPhone ahead of the rest of the industry, it would take years for that situation to change, even it ever happens. We’re not taking about a Microsoft situation, where Apple was summarily trounced when it came to OS market share.

Yes, some might complain about unfair dominance because the App Store is far and away the most successful online software repository for smartphones, but nobody is stopping Google and other competitors from succeeding with their own download services. Yes, there is that controversial provision in the iPhone 4.0 SDK that apparently blocks use of third-party intermediary compilers from being used to build iPhone apps. But how different is that from the way game console makers manage development for their proprietary platforms? Besides, if another application vendor provides a good marketplace for developers, they will come even if they have to build totally separate versions of their products.

It may well be that the real target of any government inquiry will be Apple’s iAd feature, and the decision to block access of customer data to third parties. Apple’s position is that they are primarily protecting your privacy. Forgetting the obvious competitive issues, that may be to your benefit. I mean, how many of you want your information to be at the mercy of different vendors, with different levels of ethical concerns? Aren’t you inundated with enough online advertising already?

Yes, I grant that we depend on online advertising to, in part, finance this company. But I hope it’s not in your face. There are no popups, pop-unders or intermediate banner-laden pages when you want to read our content. The ads are in clearly defined places, and you can view them or ignore them as you wish.

It’s also clear that the government isn’t just checking into Apple’s affairs willy-nilly. They have to have complaints to go on, unless there’s evidence of blatant misbehavior, and that’s highly debatable. There are published reports, for example, that Adobe has complained because of Apple’s decision to not just block Flash on their mobile platform, but prevent you from porting iPhone apps from Flash using Adobe’s software.

When one multibillion dollar multinational corporation files complaints against another, you can bet it will draw serious attention, even of the claims end up being unproven. At least it keeps lots of lawyers employed.

In the end, though, the real question is whether Apple is somehow working against you by having what many regard as overly restricted integrated ecosystems attached to their products. The problem, however, is that you do not need to buy a Mac to own a personal computer, nor do you have to buy an iPhone to acquire a smartphone. If Apple’s closed platforms don’t appeal to your needs or ethics, then go ahead and buy the products that do.

When you buy into Apple’s lifestyle, you can depend on flashy, easy-to-use products that are generally secure and reliable. When you download software from the App Store, it’s a sure thing that these apps will probably work as advertised and not present a security hazard nor, if you observe the product labeling, provide unsavory content. Maybe it is a Disneyland concept, but there’s nothing wrong with that, since most parents would prefer family-friendly fare in a world where rampant social networking has loads of nasty consequences.

At the same time, don’t feel too warm and fuzzy about Apple. While Steve Jobs may want to change the world when it comes to building sexy gadgets that are environmentally friendly, first and foremost Apple exists to make a profit. No profits, they go out of business. If a product or service doesn’t demonstrate its ability to contribute to the bottom line, it will be discontinued. That’s why there’s no more Apple Cube, but the Apple TV, although not a best-selling gadget, still makes a decent profit and so it remains “a hobby” for which Apple still seeks an ultimate end game.

In contrast, if Microsoft built a computer similar to the Cube, they would probably never give it up. They’d change the form factor, change the name, and alter the marketing approach to induce it to succeed, even if they lose hundreds of millions of billions of dollars in the process. That’s why there’s still a Zune music player even though sales simply don’t justify its existence.

When you buy into Apple, you know what you’re getting. It’s up to you to decide if that’s your cup of tea, or you’d prefer to buy the competitor’s product instead. Since there’s no way for Apple to stop you from making your own informed decision about what gear to purchase, I continue to think the government really has nothing to complain about.