Do you recall the olden days when Microsoft staggered under the weight of regulatory oversight and Apple put in motion its miraculous come-back story? History may be about to repeat itself the other way round.
Microsoft smashes Apple with Windows 11
Computerworld readers will know Microsoft at last announced Windows 11 on Thursday. While doing so, CEO Satya Nadella took a moment to smash a few windows in Apple’s direction: “Today the world needs a more open platform, one that allows apps to become platforms in their own right,” he said.
It’s a surgical strike that comes as Apple faces mounting pressure around its App Store. While many accept Apple’s argument that a secure App Store and a secure platform are choices many customers want to take, it faces stiff opposition.
Critics seem to want every platform to be equally insecure, and the volume of those voices is rising. Competitors have fostered an environment in which the company faces multiple investigations around its heavily curated App Store model, with the myth of “openness” gaining currency.
Opening up the market
Now Microsoft has given that currency a bit of a boost by making the same point. It’s an argument it is already putting into action, as you can now run Android apps on Windows 11. Conversely, Apple in 2020 prevented Microsoft from putting its cloud-based gaming Stadia app in the App Store.
Microsoft also flashed some Windows friction at the App Store business plan. Apple has rightfully argued that every platform with an app store charges some form of commission, but Microsoft has now changed the way it does so. That company will permit publishers to use non-Microsoft commerce platforms and to avoid sharing revenue with the company.
“We want to remove the barriers that too often exist today and provide choice and connection,” said Nadella. That’s the kind of thing Epic says it wants Apple to do. Epic wants Apple to provide access to its platforms.
Apple argues this will make customers less secure.
Many may recall the early days of Android, when words like “Choice” and “Open” were widely used as Google took on the iPhone. Given the same mantra is widely muttered now, it seems clear competitors are up to the same game.
Apple’s next move
Microsoft’s entrance into this fray suggests that, when it comes to the App Store, Apple’s list of foes seems larger than its list of chums. The company is under serious pressure to make some changes in its business plan.
Apple being Apple, however, I’m not anticipating those changes will be confined to being placatory – though I do expect App Store commissions will change.
Even so, Apple knows that if it bends to placate critics once, they’ll just find another chink in its armor to force another compromise, and then do it again. That’s a road that leads to Apple becoming defined by its competition.
Apple likes to define markets, not be defined by them. This means Apple’s marketing teams (when not firing off threats of legal action at product leakers because suing small targets is such a good look for multinationals) will be searching for new models that enable it to transform the conversation.
We can see what part of its current approach is: the move to define Apple’s walled garden as a protected space citing privacy and security is certainly part of that, as is discussion around the economic benefits of its platforms.
My problem now is that the arguments Apple is propagating seem more defensive than definitive. It’s reasonable to think Apple’s critics won’t care too much about Apple user privacy or security and will be quite happy to dent Apple’s profitability in favor of their own business, no matter how little the latter may prioritize customer need.
But it also seems that sometimes one way to win the argument is to profoundly transform the nature of the conversation. And I think in the next 12 to 18 months, with a combination of software, hardware, services and the liberal arts, that’s precisely what Apple is going to do.
Because, in my experience, when one market becomes challenging a good approach is to create something new. Competitors know it’s coming, which is why they’re aiming their ire at the App Store model Apple wants to use to support it. The battle for the multiverse has begun.
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