On Monday, The New York Post published rumours that the US Government is close to launching an inquiry into Apple’s developer licensing terms, specifically the 3.3.1 clause in the developers agreement that bars developers from using any but Apple mandated development tools to create applications. In today’s Wall Street Journal, one source said “Apple could try to head off trouble with antitrust enforcers by changing the terms of its developer agreement”, which Electronista seized upon as evidence that Apple might actually be considering changing the terms.
As I’ve written previously, control of the developer platform through the use of these kinds of restrictions is an ephemeral advantage at best. Apple needs to move quickly to expand the range of tools available to developers, and a logical way to do so is via some kind of licensing program.
Most importantly, the company does not want to expose itself to regulator scrutiny, and the inevitable opprobrium from the public and industry that accompanies such an investigation. Ask anyone at Microsoft who lived through the DOJ and FTC probes of the 1990’s – not only do those inquiries consume the lawyers, they become a cancer that invades the minds of employees, casting a pall internally, and impeding creativity and productivity. The DOJ inquiry dragged the whole company down. It was the beginning of the end of Microsoft’s dominance in the industry.
Steve Jobs knows that it’s critical to Apple’s business to maintain control of the developer platform, but he needs to find another tool. This 3.3.1 restriction is kryptonite.