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Is Apple becoming the new Microsoft?

If you have been listening to the grapevine, you probably heard that Apple might soon get slapped with an Anti-Trust lawsuit. Being Apple fans, we can't help but wonder, what is up with that?

The fact is, Apple is playing just nicely on the computer front. It is their mobile products (namely the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch) that are apparently stepping on some people's toes. Specifically, the way new applications can be installed onto these devices.

If you have been living under a rock, let us give you a quick overview of the current situation. Back when the iPhone was released, the only apps installed on it were the default ones. Apple's vision was, that any new functionality would either be added by them via software updates (which they have been doing) or as browser-run web apps. The later are nowhere near as powerful as a device specific app can be, but as Google has proven in the last few months, browser based html5 applications can mimic many aspects of natively run apps.

Introducing the AppStore

Back then however (and according to the majority, now as well), native apps were the way to go. With the launch of the iPhone 3G, Apple also released a far more important product – the AppStore. Giving developers a hub through which they could sell their work to every single iPhone owner was a dream come true. Well, sort of.

You see, what most people failed to notice was that Apple would have to approve every single app that is submitted. In theory this ensures that low-quality or even dangerous apps don't have a chance of destroying everyone's favorite gadget. However, this also means that Apple can arbitrarily disallow certain apps based on pretty much anything. Google up the words “iphone”, “app” and “rejected” – you'll see what we are talking about.

After a bout with Google, Apple was under scrutiny by pretty much every news outlet in the world and it didn't take long for them to make a slight alteration to the process. They apparently hired more reviewers and streamlined the entire process, since apps were getting approved faster and fewer random rejections occurred.

The iPad and the fight against Flash

The next chapter of the saga is Apple releasing the iPad and once again shunning Adobe's Flash, citing bad performance, bugs and battery life as the major reasons behind their decision. Ultimately this didn't matter much however, since Adobe had an ace up its sleeve for some time now – tools that allowed porting of flash apps straight to the iPhone app format. On paper this would allow developers to port huge libraries of games and tools with minimal to no effort. Even better, they could use the same code on other devices, either via Flash support or by porting it to the platform.

Apple's latest (and most likely final) step in its battle against Adobe took all a bit by surprise, mostly because they not only declared war on Adobe, but every competitive mobile platform as well (mainly Google's Android and RIM's BlackBerry). A small change in the iPhone SDK TOA forces developers to develop apps for the iPhone in Apple's own Objective-C language. Using any other method, be it porting of other languages to an iPhone friendly format or using prebuilt frameworks is now strictly forbidden. This forces developers to write iPhone OS apps from the ground up in a language, that can't be directly ported to any other platform. The cherry on this cake is the fact, that it pulls the potential millions of $ of licensing fees straight from under Adobe's nose.

A lawsuit is imminent

The word on the block is that Adobe put into motion the vast machinery of USA's government agencies in an effort to start an Anti-Trust lawsuit against Apple. While so far nothing has been confirmed, it takes only a quick glance at Apple's stock price to see that investors are more than willing to believe the rumors.

Apple's fanbase is screaming loudly that Apple can do whatever it wants on its platform, but it doesn't take a PhD in corporate law to see that Apple's recent actions are very anti-competitive, tying app developers to their own system.

Can Apple's eternal thorn in the side save them?

There is a third way of getting apps onto the iPhone besides using web apps and the AppStore – Jailbreaking. Exploiting flaws in the iPhone OS, jailbreaking allows users to run software that was not approved by Apple and access parts of the OS that only 1st party apps can usually access.

It also voids your warranty and opens you up to the risk of bricking your phone. Plus, you can catch a virus or two if you are not careful. On the upside, you can use multitasking right now (officially, the iPhone will be able to multitask this summer), use apps that Apple rejected and more.

So why does Apple have a problem with jailbreaking? For one, it allows users to pirate apps. But more importantly, it allows developers to put software on users phones without Apple getting a slice of the pie. Sure, Apple's main income comes from the devices themselves, but the AppStore is a billion dollar business already, and it has only been on the market for a year and 9 months.

If the Anti-Trust lawsuit does happen, Apple might be forced to open up their system, making the AppStore lose much of its momentum. Making jailbreaking legal (at least parts of it) by removing some of the restrictions preemptively might help them save face however, which as we all know is very important to Apple.

As always however, only time will tell – Apple's stock has been skyrocketing for the past 3 years, so they are doing some things right. Hopefully, their rocket ship won't come crashing down – they might burn up before they reach the ground.

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