President Biden’s newly appointed special assistant for tech and competition is an enemy of monopolies and a fierce proponent of open systems.
Wu’s “The Master Switch: The rise and fall of information empires” (2010) mentions Apple 117 times. A sample:
“There’s a question I’ve always wanted to ask you,” [Wu told Wozniac in 2006]. “What happened with the Mac? You could open up the Apple II, and there were slots and so on, and anyone could write for it. The Mac was way more closed. What happened?”
“Oh,” said Wozniak. “That was Steve. He wanted it that way. The Apple II was my machine, and the Mac was his.”
Apple’s origins were pure Steve Wozniak, but as everyone knows, it was the other founder, Steve Jobs, whose ideas made Apple what it is today. Jobs maintained the early image that he and Wozniak created, but beginning with the Macintosh in the 1980s, and accelerating through the age of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, he led Apple computers on a fundamentally different track.
Jobs is a man who would seem as much at home in Victorian England as behind the counter of a sushi bar: he is an apostle of perfectibility and believes in a single best way of performing any task and presenting the results. As one might expect, his ideas embody an aesthetic philosophy as much as a sense of functionality, which is why Apple’s products look so good while working so well. But those ideas have also long been at odds with the principles of the early computing industry, of the Apple II and of the Internet, sometimes to the detriment of Apple itself.
As Wozniak told me, the Macintosh, launched in 1984, marked a departure from many of his ideas as realized in the Apple II. To be sure, the Macintosh was radically innovative in its own right, being the first important mass-produced computer to feature a “mouse” and a “desktop”—ideas born in the mind of Douglas Engelbart in the 1950s, ideas that had persisted without fructifying in computer science labs ever since.* Nevertheless the Mac represented an unconditional surrender of Wozniak’s openness, as was obvious from the first glance: gone was the concept of the hood. You could no longer easily open the computer and get at its innards. Generally, only Apple stuff, or stuff that Apple approved, could run on it (as software) or plug into it (as peripherals). Apple now refused to license its operating system, meaning that a company like Dell couldn’t make a Mac-compatible computer. If you wanted a laser printer, software, or virtually any accessory, it was to Apple you had to turn. Apple thus became the final arbiter over what the Macintosh was and was not, rather in the way that AT&T at one time had sole discretion over what could and what could not connect to the telephone network.
Thus via the Mac, Apple was at once an innovative and a completely retrograde company. Jobs had elected the design principles that had governed the Hollywood studios, Theodore Vail’s AT&T, indeed anyone who ever dreamed of a perfect system…
It is the old conflict between the concepts of the open system and the closed, between the forces of centralized order and those of dispersed variety. The antagonists assume new forms, the generals change, but essentially the same battles are fought over and over again. It is the very essence of the Cycle [of disruption], which even a technology as radical and powerful as the Internet seems able at most to moderate but not to abolish.
My take: Judging from recent interviews (his 2016 conversation with Ezra Klein is especially revealing), Wu understands the power of platforms and the failure of antitrust law to keep up. Having a good heart matters to Wu. Facebook and Amazon probably have more to fear from him than Google and Apple.
UPDATE: Wu mentions Apple explicitly in a 2010 piece in the Wall Street Journal. Note how he defines the market the company “owns”:
From “In the Grip of the New Monopolists” posted Nov. 13, 2010:
The Internet has long been held up as a model for what the free market is supposed to look like—competition in its purest form. So why does it look increasingly like a Monopoly board? Most of the major sectors today are controlled by one dominant company or an oligopoly. Google “owns” search; Facebook, social networking; eBay rules auctions; Apple dominates online content delivery; Amazon, retail; and so on.