Commentary: Things Just Got Ridiculous in the Apple/Adobe Conflict

When The Steve talks, people listen. This includes the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. Both want to weigh in on section 3.3.1 of the iPhone OS developer agreement. Although the agreement has been out for weeks, the Adobe/Apple conflict has now found the eye of multiple agencies in Washington according to this NY Post rumor.

Have they been under a rock the past three years? Didn’t the FCC inquiry regarding Google Voice (s goog) get the iPhone on their radar? No. But apparently Steve’s letter got them all excited.

Their “concern” (if the NY Post rumor is true) is that somehow Apple (s aapl) is “forcing” developers to use only Apple approved development environments and therefore are locking out companies like Adobe (s adbe) from the iPhone app development platform. Talk about missing the point! There’s a heck of a lot more important things concerning the iPhone for the government to inquire about.

Of all the concerns to have…

I don’t think it’s a major stretch to say most iPhone developers are much more concerned about Apple actually approving their apps rather than what development environment is used to write the apps. Apple wants stable and reliable iPhone apps and by restricting the development tools, it protects its market share by protecting the iPhone and insuring developers don’t use middleware like Adobe’s Flash cross-compiler. Apple’s terms are clearly stated in the developer agreement and developers don’t have to develop apps for the iPhone. There are plenty of other platforms out there. Developers, of course, can use “web apps” which were the only type of apps available the first year of the iPhone. The mystery and randomness behind which apps are approved and which are either not approved or put in purgatory (Google Voice) hasn’t become a concern of either the DOJ or FTC.

If this, why not that?

If these agencies want a piece of the iPhone pie, how about looking at other aspects of the iPhone ecosystem? Apple isn’t just locking out Adobe from iPhone development, it locks out other companies from various parts of the iPhone OS as well. The Fed got all in a huff back in the late 1990s about users being able to choose the default browser and search engine on the Windows platform, but iPhone users are stuck with only a limited choice between Google and Yahoo searches on their iPhone. Browser choice is limited as well. Sure, you can use an app like Opera, but if you want to make it your default app for web links you might as well go pound sand. Why is this limitation of choice OK on the iPhone but not in an OS like Windows?

While the Feds are looking at the bundling issue, why not open an inquiry into the bundling of iLife with all new Macs? As a buyer, if I want to use, say Adobe Photoshop Elements or Premiere Elements, I still have to have iLife installed. I can’t buy a Mac without it. Other products like Adobe Reader are completely unnecessary on the average consumer Mac. Same goes for Google’s products such as Picassa or Chrome. AOL will want their 2 cents when AOL Instant Messenger and Netscpe were supplanted by Safari and iChat. When Microsoft does these “forced defaults” on Windows machines, it’s been a subject of inquiry, but when Apple does this on the iPhone and the Mac platform, how is it not a concern? Mess with Flash though, and you have two federal departments jockeying for inquiry rights!

To even consider going after Apple for any antitrust issues is outrageous when they have less than a majority of the market as Charles reported recently. How can any company be accused of anti-competitive behavior when they don’t even have a majority of said market?

These agencies, of course, are also ignoring how Adobe Flash became the preeminent multimedia format on the Internet: through their purchase of Macromedia as well as other buyouts that killed all other competitors to Flash. Microsoft’s Silverlight pales in comparison to the ubiquity of Flash on the Internet. The DOJ had their chance to weigh in on this issue back in 2005 when they didn’t object to the Adobe purchase of Macromedia. The fact that the iPhone won’t ever run Flash apps is the DOJ’s and Adobe’s own fault. They had their chance to get involved. They made this problem and Apple’s fixing it.

What is this really about? An argument about multiple federal bureaucracies trying to make a name for themselves by attacking a popular product. Apple has done nothing wrong here and section 3.3.1 is mild compared to other things Apple has done. Maybe some powerful federal bureaucrat’s kid is really upset at not being able to play Facebook games like Farmville on their iPhone, and thus, here we are.