Kara Swisher goes Apple-colyptical

From “Here Come the 4 Horsemen of the Techopolypse” in Thursday’s New York Times:

The chief executives of four of the most powerful tech companies in the world — Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon — have agreed to appear in late July before a congressional committee as part of an investigation focused on antitrust…

“We have very serious concerns about the absence of competition,” Mr. Cicilline said. “So we are interested in a wide range of things like their acquisitions, bullying, market power, their favoring of their products and services…”

No surprise that I prefer public grillings with a side of shame, but more important will be how the companies portray themselves and how they differentiate themselves. While it’s convenient to apply the catchall term “Big Tech” to them, they are not a monolith and some in this group are further along in understanding that with great power comes great responsibility — and, more important, accountability.

At the heart of these inquiries, of course, is how can we continue to innovate as power has become more concentrated than ever. I have done innumerable interviews with start-ups and investors in which they talk about the chilling effect of big companies on their business.

Ask yourself, how easy it is to start an ad-based search engine, a social network, a major online retailer or an app platform when these companies completely cover the field with their money and power and might?

My take: “Favoring their products and services” on their own app platform is where Apple is vulnerable.



  1. Jerry Doyle said:
    What is a monopoly & abuse of power? Cable companies. When you can identify which service provider someone has by their geographic location, there’s a problem. What has Congress done about this monopoly?

    Of the 4 companies, only 1 seems (to me) to be an issue: Facebook. I have 4 search engines on my devices: DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yahoo & Google. I have a choice! With Facebook I have a choice: I’m not on it! I seldom use Amazon. I go directly to the vendor’s website. If I need something quickly I swing by 1 of the big outlets such as Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s or even mom & pops. When I see a vehicle that pique my interest I go directly to its website to find the make & model.

    The app issue mystifies me. I embrace Fred Stein’s analogy. Grocery stores promote their brands at more competitive prices alongside other brands often causing me to buy the store’s brand. Why isn’t Congress holding antitrust hearings on major grocery chains?

    If I were a Developer with an app I gladly would welcome the 1 billion+ platform of Apple with its support & resources in exchange for a 30% 1 year access & 15% in subsequent years. In the absence of theses resources I still would incur these operational expenses & likely be less efficient.

    “….what could be an all-day event.” Little doubt Congressional Representatives will exploit the event to make it an all-day event for their moment in the public limelight.

    July 2, 2020
    • Dave Ryder said:
      Jerry, I’m with you on the 30% cut. I don’t think Apple (or Google for that matter) is forcing someone to be a developer for iOS. However, Apple hurt itself a bit by being inconsistent in how it seems to have applied the rules.

      July 2, 2020
  2. Steven Philips said:
    “No surprise that I prefer public grilling with a side of shame.”

    Like witch dunking? McCarthy hearings? Other political posturing?
    Sorry! Mr. Cicilline has already telegraphed his conclusions. (or is it sorry Mr. Cicilline?)

    Lost a lot of respect for Ms. Swisher on that one. Little thought shown.

    July 2, 2020
  3. Kirk DeBernardi said:
    Kara Swisher (quote):

    “Ask yourself, how easy it is to start an ad-based search engine, a social network, a major online retailer or an app platform when these companies completely cover the field with their money and power and might?”

    Let’s see. Where‘s that bad ol’ 800 pound Apple gorilla in all of this?

    “…an ad-based search engine”?
    Not even in the room.

    “…a social network“?
    Well…they did TRY, but not even faintly on today’s horizon.

    “…a major online retailer”?
    Major? Hardly.

    “…an app platform”?
    Kara must mean this is Apple’s big scary threat.

    Let’s examine that threat.

    • 85% of apps are free installs.
    • Most are games (sad, but true).
    • 15% take is the real ongoing Apple cost to achieve that developer “holy grail” of app money grab — subscriptions (still eminently achievable OUTSIDE of the app itself).
    • Every developer is free to process money outside of the app. (Sorry, Apple won’t help you here — should they?).
    • It’s their store. It’s not a utility.
    • $99 annual developer pay-to-play. Oh, doesn’t that (not) sting.

    In summation, maybe Apple’s perceived “strength penalty” is that their store is too much under their control. For my money, I’m buying into that “just works” control, curation, privacy and safety.

    After all, given the above parameters, it’s more a museum of free/cheap utility than a scary monopolist threat.

    July 2, 2020
    • Kirk DeBernardi said:
      The counter-argument seems to me to be that Apple shouldn’t take any cut and moreover, any app should be allowed to install on iOS devices from anywhere.

      Anybody, please correct me if I am wrong.

      July 2, 2020
      • Bart Yee said:
        Kirk, sounds like they want Apple to be like Android (not charge for the OS), and side load from any App store – Gee, how’s that working out for Android users and malware?

        No, that model doesn’t work. And anyone thinking that all app developers would play fair and not want control over add-ons to THEIR apps would be in the same boat – they wouldn’t.

        July 3, 2020

Leave a Reply