Apple’s Paranoia, Hubris, & Hypocrisy to Blame For DOJ’s Lawsuit

The DOJ launched a sweeping antitrust lawsuit against Apple, accusing the company of abusing its smartphone monopoly and attacking several key aspects of the company's business. Unfortunately, Apple h...
Apple’s Paranoia, Hubris, & Hypocrisy to Blame For DOJ’s Lawsuit
Written by Matt Milano
  • The DOJ launched a sweeping antitrust lawsuit against Apple, accusing the company of abusing its smartphone monopoly and attacking several key aspects of the company’s business. Unfortunately, Apple has only itself to blame.

    What the DOJ Claims

    The DOJ takes aim at several of Apple’s core businesses, including the App Store, the Apple Watch, digital wallets, and iMessage. At the crux of the issue is Apple’s “walled garden” approach and the lengths the company goes to to protect it.

    The DOJ claims that Apple’s actions have led to higher costs and limited choices for developers and consumers alike.

    “For years, Apple responded to competitive threats by imposing a series of “Whac-A-Mole” contractual rules and restrictions that have allowed Apple to extract higher prices from consumers, impose higher fees on developers and creators, and to throttle competitive alternatives from rival technologies,” said Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “Today’s lawsuit seeks to hold Apple accountable and ensure it cannot deploy the same, unlawful playbook in other vital markets.”

    Looking at one point, iMessage in particular illustrates why Apple has only itself to blame.

    The Green vs Blue Bubble Debate

    Apple has been under fire for years over how iPhones handle text messaging. By default, iPhones use Apple’s own iMessage for texting, giving users advanced features, including strong encryption, group management, file sharing, read receipts, and more.

    When texting Android devices, however, iPhones fall back to using basic SMS. As a result, cross-platform texting has none of the advanced features iMessage provides. Even more important, SMS provides none of the strong security features and encryption that iMessage provides.

    For years, RCS has existed as a successor to SMS, providing many of the features users enjoy in iMessage. Unfortunately, Apple had no interest in adopting RCS. The company was so staunch in this view that CEO Tim Cook famously said those who wanted full-featured cross-platform messaging should just get an iPhone.

    To be fair, Apple did eventually announce in late 2023 that it would support RCS, with initial plans slated for late-2024. The announcement did little to placate critics, however, with many believing Apple only acquiesced in response to looming EU regulation. Others have remained skeptical about how wholehearted or limited Apple’s adoption may be.

    Either way, Apple spent years destroying any goodwill in the realm of messaging, drawing unnecessary scrutiny that could have been avoided by playing nice sooner.

    The Beeper Mini Debacle

    Another way Apple shot itself in the foot was in its handling of Beeper Mini. Because it is widely believed that Apple’s implementation of RCS will have limits, Beeper announced Beeper Mini would bring iMessage support to Android.

    It is important to note that, unlike previous attempts to accomplish this, Beeper Mini’s approach maintained the security and privacy of users. Rather than welcoming Beeper Mini, working out a partnership with, or at the very least grudgingly allowing it to continue, Apple launched an all-out campaign to block the app, eventually succeeding in that goal.

    To be clear: Apple killed the only viable option for iPhone users to securely, safely, and privately communicate with their non-iPhone friends and family using the default iMessage experience, forcing many to fall back to insecure, non-private SMS.

    Once again, the company destroyed any goodwill it had on the topic, with users, industry experts, and regulators decrying the company’s actions. In fact, a bipartisan group of lawmakers called for the DOJ “to investigate whether this potentially anticompetitive conduct by Apple violated antitrust laws.”

    Apple’s Paranoia, Hubris and Hypocrisy

    Interestingly, Apple was not always like this. In fact, under Steve Jobs’ tenure, Apple welcomed opportunities to bring its apps and services to other platforms, most notably iTunes, the iPod, and Safari, among others.

    Jobs’ reasons for doing so were clear: He had enough confidence in Apple’s products, services, and innovation that he simply wanted people to give Apple’s products a try. He was confident that once they did, they would enjoy using Apple’s products so much that they would buy more and gradually switch to using Macs, iPhones, and iPads full-time.

    The strategy—often called the “halo effect”—worked brilliantly. People saw how much easier it was to use an iPod over competing MP3 players and wondered if the same applied to Apple computers, and eventually phones and tablets.

    Unfortunately, Apple seems to have done a complete 180. Rather than have confidence that its products are good enough to cause people to want more, the company seems paranoid that customers will abandon their products if they get a taste for something different.

    This is not idle speculation. In fact, Apple’s own executives have said as much, as evidenced by Craig Federighi’s response to then-exec Eddie Cue pushing for an Android version of iMessage:

    I am concerned [that] iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove an obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones.

    Compounding the problem, Apple’s paranoia about losing customers is paired with an astonishing level of hubris, evidently believing it is big enough that it no longer needs to play nice with others in the industry. When WhatsApp, Google, and others can put aside their differences to support cross-platform messaging, there is absolutely no excuse for Apple to buck the trend. No company should ever think it is so big or so important that it doesn’t have to play nice with others or ignore the reality of its users needing safe and secure communication with non-users.

    Similarly, Apple’s response to the messaging debacle shines a spotlight on the company’s hypocrisy when it comes to privacy and security. Apple has built much of its marketing around privacy and security, touting the benefits it offers over other platforms.

    Yet, the instant an iPhone user communicates with a non-iPhone user, privacy and security become non-existent for both users. This is not a case of iPhone users continuing to be secure and Apple simply not being able to provide the same level of security for non-iPhone users. If an iPhone and Android user are texting neither of them enjoys the security and privacy Apple touts.

    Let me be perfectly clear: It is hypocritical for Apple to try to build a reputation around privacy and security, only to sell out its own users because it doesn’t want to support a competing platform. A company that truly cared about its users’ privacy and security would look for ways to help protect them even when they were communicating with users of other platforms.

    What Happens Next

    It is hard to predict what will happen next. Apple can hardly be called a monopoly in the traditional sense of the word. The company’s Mac market share is a fraction of Windows, and while it has a majority of the smartphone market in the US, that is not the case worldwide.

    I hope that Apple can beat most of the DOJ’s case. The fact is, I don’t believe Apple’s walled garden is a bad thing. I used Apple’s products for over 20 years, even developing software for its platforms. I have always loved Apple products, even though its decisions in recent years pushed me to Linux. With that perspective, I personally see Apple’s walled garden as a good thing for many users, offering them a level of security that is often lacking in the tech community.

    At the same time, that walled garden must be balanced with a more pragmatic approach to working with competing platforms and standards, absent the paranoia, hubris, and hypocrisy that has caused the company to be willing to spite its own users rather than play nice with others.

    Only time will tell if Apple returns to the Jobs-era level of confidence in its own products, belief in its own vision, and conviction of its own principles that will allow it to truly deliver the best experience—even if you’re not a die-hard Apple user.

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