Apple's iPhone and iPod monopolies must go

With a year and 1.5 billion downloads under its belt, maybe its time for Apple's App Store--and Music Store--to get some competition

With a year and 1.5 billion downloads under its belt, maybe its time for Apple's App Store--and Music Store--to get some competition. Whether Apple likes it or not.

Is it really in customers' best interest for Apple to have such tight control over what iPhone and iPod users can buy? Of course not.

With the Obama Justice Dept. seemingly looking for evil monopolies to take apart, maybe Apple would be a good place to start.

It's hard to say someone else couldn't do at least as good a job as Apple in bringing iPhone and iPod touch apps to market. With its wishy-washy morals clause and indifferent treatment of developers, Apple has set a low standard to top.

To its credit, Apple seems to be making good on its promise of not trying to cash-in on the App Store. The reports I've seen say it runs at about break-even. Apple has also done everyone a favor by helping to keep application prices low enough that people can buy interesting apps and dump the losers with little remorse.

But, does this justify Apple being essentially the sole source for iPhone and iPod touch applications? I don't think so.

As for Music Store, yes, I have bought a song or two from Amazon that are now happily loaded onto my iPod. I guess that's competition.

Yet, the tight linkage between iPod/iPhone, iTunes, and the Music Store is a big wall for potential competitors to climb. And if Amazon can't compete head-to-head with Apple, who can?

Of the two, App Store and Music Store, I am more concerned about music and other content. Suppose Apple were required to publish an open API for iTunes and support all models of players and phones? And multiple content vendors?

That would dramatically increase competition in smartphones and players as well as between the Music Store and its suddenly compatible competitors. Customers might choose music stores in iTunes the same way browser users select a default search engine.

If it had equal access to iTunes and the Music Store, the Palm Pre, among other devices would immediately become more interesting. And Apple would have to compete more on features and price than the exclusive access its devices have to its online retail ecosystem.

I am not trying to suggest incredible wrongdoing on Apple's part. I am, actually, a huge fan of what the company has done both in selling both content and applications.

Yet, I wonder how long this can go on before Apple will be forced to open the platforms to competitors. Customers would be better off if this happens sooner than later.

As an Apple fan, this isn't a question I like to ask, but it's one that needs to be answered.

Industry veteran David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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David Coursey

PC World (US online)
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