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In ten years time, will Apple be the new Microsoft – an abusive monopoly?

Daring Fireball: Up Flash Creek Without a Paddle:

“Even if Adobe eventually gets Flash running well — by any standard for ‘running well’ — on actual iPhone hardware, rather than just in the iPhone simulator, they can’t ship it without Apple’s explicit permission.”

John is right of course: and this is the thing that makes me slightly queasy about the iPhone.

While Apple has a relatively low market share and there’s plenty of choice of platform, the control that Apple has over the third party application market really doesn’t matter. If a really cool application appears that Apple refuses to sanction, its developers can just up-sticks and move to S60, or Java, or (if they’re nuts) Windows Mobile and reach an equally large audience.

But what happens if Apple’s market share grows to the point where it has a monopoly – 70-, 80- or even 90% market share? That might take ten years, but it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility, and it’s certainly something that Apple would like to have.

At that point, does Apple’s control over third-party applications become an abuse of a monopoly – something that is, of course, illegal in both Europe and the US?

To answer that, ask yourself this: if in the PC market, Microsoft used a similar system and every application had to be sanctioned by them in order to run; and if they used that system to lock-out, say, iTunes; would you consider it abusive?

I think the answer for most people would be “yes”. And that’s why I’m concerned about the approach that Apple is taking. While it is extremely convenient for consumers in the short-term, the potential for abuse is there, and in the long term, as its market share grows, Apple will have to be very careful about which applications it decides not to allow on the iPhone.

And, I suspect, if Apple were to lock Adobe out of the iPhone simply because it’s not in Apple’s interests (as opposed to in the interests of consumers), it would be establishing an early pattern of using the App Store for its own interests, not that of consumers – something that would weigh against it as a “pattern of abuse” in the long term.

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