The day of reckoning for big tech has finally come?

There is a great discussion on ‘The WAN Show’ regarding the 36 states in the United States that are suing Google in regards to their Play Store and anti-trust violations.

If you’re more inclined to read an article then here is one from Bloomberg (link). Some of the biggest complaints that were made regarding the Google Play store can also be applied to the Apple AppStore as well – these include:

  1. The inability to use a third party payment provider – either exclusively by the developer or simply as an option along side the one that Apple or Google provided. What makes the situation even worse is lets assume that the company says, “ok, we’ll only allow it through our websites so then our application is only to logon to existing accounts” then provide information in an FAQ, “to change payment methods you need to log in through the website” then you wouldn’t be allowed to do that either.
  2. Google requires, as part of being able to get the Play Store preinstalled on your phone and many of them cannot be uninstalled by the customer along with Google applications take prominent on the Home Screen of the phone.
  3. Trying to strong arm Samsung into ditching its own store and instead ship a rebrand Play Store but with the Galaxy branding.

There are other complaints but these are the main ones that come to my attention at the moment. I have to prefix this by saying that not all monopolies are bad – for example, we have electricity and telephone line monopolies because of the impracticality of duplicating infrastructure due to the high capital costs and how having two competitors each with their own infrastructure results in higher prices because there are fewer people in which those costs can be recuperated from due to the fragmenting of the marketplace – or what they say in the world of economics, ‘natural monopolies’. As a result of that, there can be a legitimate reason for maintaining a monopoly but that ability to continue existing in the current always comes with restrictions/regulations to ensure that said monopoly position isn’t abused.

I’m sure there legitimate reasons one could possibly come up with regarding why the Apple AppStore and Play Store have monopolies on their said platform – security knowing that what you’re buying is ‘the real deal’, consumer trust knowing their payment is being handled securely and so on. If they are going to make that argument than fair enough but at the same time that will open themselves up to be regulated like a monopoly – and what will require both sides disclosing the cost of delivering services so then a ‘fair return’ can be calculated by what ever the equivalent is of the Competition Commission.

If the companies don’t like that then there is an alternative model which is the one that Microsoft is advancing at the moment which will offer the payment and content distribution services that Microsoft can provide but equally if a vendor, such as Adobe, prefers to use their own content delivery network and payment solution then they can use that to (personally I think Microsoft should have an option for a customer to pay to unlock their Xbox (the amount the device is subsidised by) so then they can install games from Steam etc maybe include an option to install ‘desktop mode’ and turn an Xbox into desktop computer so then you can install Microsoft Office).

When these issues are bought up (along with many others) the usual refrain is “if you don’t like it, just buy something else” but the problem is that firstly we’re in a duopoly (it would have been nice for Windows 10 Mobile to be successful but alas here we are) but the best argument against that would be what took place during the DOJ vs Microsoft trial when Microsoft tried to make the same argument when claiming that they had competition in the PC operating system market and then pointed to macOS but like the situation (which was raised by the DOJ) with smartphones, it requires having to invest into a whole new device not to mention if it is moving from android to iOS (or vice versa) requires the repurchasing of software (assuming it is available) not to mention dealing with a subpar integrated experience (Android not supporting iCloud’s CardDAV, CalDAV etc). Such obstacles do not making moving between platforms frictionless – the longer one has been investigated into a given ecosystem the more difficult it is to move out of it and with the role of cloud computing and the integration of the device into the cloud then it makes it all the more difficult to move (I’m trying to move my password saved in Keychain over to Chrome – over 40 passwords, think of the average person, I doubt they have the patience I do).

Part of me wished an investigation was also done between Google and its used of it’s services as leverage to maintain Android’s monopoly on ‘generic’ smart phones through their refusal to provide their applications for the Windows Phone/Windows Mobile – Imagine if application vendors were more forth coming with providing their software on the platform then consumers would have a viable third option. Imagine if it were take step further, you buy an Android but change your mind so instead you hook it up to a computer via a USB cable, download an application from your handset vendor then within an hour you have Windows 11 Mobile on your phone ready to be used. Sigh, yeah, I rage about the application vendors not supporting the platform but it wasn’t helped when Microsoft reset the platform multiple times till eventually even Microsoft were confused as to the direction they wanted to take it in.

On a side note, there is an interesting article on Computerworld regarding the death of Software as a Service. commonly known as SaaS, where the author talks about the launch of Windows 11 and the return to yearly updates signing off on the fail ‘release early, release often’ approach that Microsoft took with Windows 10 (link) which has left a bitter taste in many users mouths. I think the idea in principle sounds good when applied to applications but operating systems aren’t applications – if you screw up something in an application it is a pain in the backside but generally everything else keeps on working. When it comes to an operating system, not only are you ensuring that the operating system is internally robust but also robust when it comes to third parties such as driver vendors, application and game developers etc. the impact of a small mistake has massive consequences where as with an application the impact is limited. The focus, from what it appears, is that Microsoft will release a feature update every 12 months and each month customers will receive the usual security updates.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the developer builds turn into a rolling release where new features are pushed out to, receive feedback in terms of bug reports and where things need to improve, then when they’re considered ‘ready’ they’re included in the next feature update of Windows. I think the move back to more of a traditional model is going to help them in the long run – provide a stable foundation and keep things moving forward in a coordinated fashion.

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