Apple is a lifestyle brand. The $2.8 trillion company, founded by Ronald Wayne, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, is known to the world as an innovator in consumer technology, but using Apple products is widely seen as a lifestyle choice embraced by consumers.
I’m an Apple guy. My devices are all synced, from the iPhone to the Macbook Pro, the Apple Watch and the HomePod mini. No one coerced me into this way of living, but that hasn’t stopped the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) from investigating Apple and concocting yet another vast antitrust case against an American company.
As of today, President Biden’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken Amazon and Meta to court over alleged anti-competitive practices, and the DOJ has hit Google with two antitrust suits targeting Google Search and their ad services. According to The New York Times, the DOJ is still calculating whether or not to bring its multipronged antitrust complaint against Apple.
What stands out in the Times’s report on the investigation is that it reads like Apple’s competitors are behind the steering wheel of their very own government agency. David McCabe and Tripp Mickle write, “Rivals have said that they have been denied access to key Apple features, like the Siri virtual assistant, prompting them to argue the practices are anticompetitive.”
Imagine the classroom slacker making the case to the teacher that the straight-A student in the front of the class is being anti-competitive by not sharing their lecture notes with them.
It’s one thing to maliciously penalize or seek to inconvenience consumers for having a mixed assortment of technology from Apple, LG, Samsung, Nokia and Google. It’s another thing entirely for the government to say that Apple has to design its products for Samsung to piggyback on and then offer to their loyal customers as a perk of not doing business with Apple. Investigators are spending taxpayer dollars to find out why the Apple Watch works more smoothly with the iPhone than with rival brands.
Does the DOJ work for Samsung or the American people?
This mindset is exactly what went wrong in court for FTC chair Lina Khan when she threw the once-relevant consumer protection agency between the Microsoft and Activision-Blizzard merger, a case that District Court Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley indicated seemed to be a benefit to Sony, a Japanese firm, more than American consumers.
None of this is to say Apple is a perfect company, or that it’s behaved like a free enterprise angel throughout every aspect of its business. It hasn’t. Its long-time reliance on manufacturing and investments in China, and how that steers its business, is a big one. But that Apple makes intentionally integrated products that foster brand loyalty and consumer satisfaction is special in the landscape of American tech. Apple is a seamless experience for consumers like myself who are not huge techies, but rather novices who place a premium on convenience and ease of use.
The reality for Apple is that it operates in a global marketplace with different rules of the road on almost every continent. The European Union is very close to forcing open Apple’s App Store model to allow for third-party app stores on their devices, a provision of the 2022 Digital Markets Act. The EU has also directed its regulatory energies on requiring device manufacturers to have a universal charging port, further removing design distinctions between major tech brands.
In the United States, Apple narrowly fended off the maker of Fortnite, Epic Games, in a high-profile lawsuit contending Apple held an unfair monopoly over payment processing for in-app purchases. The case failed when the courts correctly acknowledged that Apple does not hold a monopoly in the mobile games market.
Tech firms may all be united in that they are the target of never-before-seen political scrutiny in Washington, but they are still competitors. You can see this in how they fight government regulation of their business with one hand, and request government help in slowing down their competition with the other.
Meta reportedly “encouraged” the Justice Department to look into Apple’s new consumer privacy tool, App Tracking Transparency, which empowers iPhone owners to customize and cut off data collection by advertisers of their choosing. It is not a coincidence that Meta anticipates a $10 billion loss in revenue from this useful tool Apple designed for consumers concerned with privacy.
None of this is new. Successful companies and established industries have always sought to use the federal government as both a cudgel and a shield to protect their interests. For those of us chiefly concerned with consumer satisfaction and welfare, there is no temptation to choose winners and losers in the market.
Let Apple be Apple, and let consumers choose.
Originally published here