Apple vs. Adobe on antitrust: Should regulators dictate what's in an SDK?

Summary:Apple is reportedly facing an antitrust investigation at the behest of Adobe, but there's one irksome question: Should antitrust delve into the guts of a software developer kit?

Apple is reportedly facing an antitrust investigation at the behest of Adobe, but there's one irksome question: Should antitrust delve into the guts of a software developer kit?

Initial reports about a potential antitrust inquiry based on the iPhone 4.0 terms of its SDK appear to be on target. And now Bloomberg says Adobe requested the review.

As a review the item in question is section 3.3.1, which is basically the no Adobe Flash clause.

3.3.1 — Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

Regulators would obviously want Apple to open that up so third party intermediary layers (like Adobe). How meddlesome is this really? OK, Apple CEO Steve Jobs hates Flash and frankly I can't disagree with a lot of his points about the software. Flash does need some work. Should Apple really be forced to offer options when it thinks Flash sucks? Meanwhile, Apple has 25 percent of the smartphone market in the U.S. (Comscore) and 16 percent globally (IDC).

If Apple wants to stump for HTML 5 or some other standard it can. If your iPad doesn't deliver Flash you can always get annoyed and buy something else. Apple simply doesn't have the world domination market share in the iPhone or iPad for regulators to give a hoot. Sure, Adobe has a serious business risk to worry about, but it's betting on Android. Perhaps Android kicks the iPhone's arse in a year or two.

In other words, Apple can block Flash and pay the consequences in the marketplace. The tech industry isn't some playground where the score is never kept (an annoying practice considering every kid on the field can tell you who won or lost and the score).

Call me crazy, but I'm not sure I want the Feds playing around with SDKs. It smells like micromanagement to me and that's dangerous. It's bad enough that regulators are likely to overreach everywhere---do they really have grounds to shoot down Google's AdMob acquisition?

In a nutshell, the Adobe-Apple PR battle is interesting, but the big question here may revolve around regulatory power.

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Topics: Government : US, Apple, Enterprise Software, Government, Security, Developer


Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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