History repeating itself: Apple could learn from Microsoft’s past

Apple's not the Microsoft of 20 years ago, but it can still learn something from that example.


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They say that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. They don’t say what happens to those who just audit history.

Writing for the Forbes contributor network and Easy-Bake Oven Cake School, Dan Runkevicius says “Watch Out, Apple. The Same Mistake Destroyed Microsoft In 1998.” (Tip o’ the antlers to Sam.)

Repeatedly stepping on a rake and having it smash you in the face? Being the dean of Self-Owns University, a for-profit college?

So, in 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice ordered a break up of Microsoft’s monopoly. In the end, Microsoft reached a settlement, but it had lost most of its powers in computer software.

What does that mean? It lost the ability to make and sell software to large corporations? It lost electricity?

Judge: “You are no longer allowed to use ones and zeroes! From here on out it’s threes and fours for you!”

Microsoft: “But, your honor, computers don’t run on…”

Judge: “Ah-tut-tut-tut! THREES AND FOURS!”

I’m sharing this story because Apple is recklessly following in Microsoft’s footsteps.

The Macalope agrees that Apple is headed toward the same kind of confrontation Microsoft faced in the early 2000s, and it’s a confrontation that can present a lot of challenges. Still, that wasn’t the biggest cause of Microsoft’s woes in the early part of the 2000s. What hurt Microsoft in the early 2000s was bad management.

Bad and sweaty. It’s not a good combination.

It took Microsoft five years to release Windows Vista which was widely panned and then another three years to ship Windows 7, the next release that was widely adopted. Its other two products of note were the Zune and Windows Mobile. It’s not surprising it took them a few years to walk that off.

Now, you could argue that rushing headlong into this kind of confrontation is a sign of bad management, the kind of management that leads to other problems, but that’s not what Runkevicius seems to be saying.

The Macalope has complained about the App Store rules in the past and there are any number of things wrong with them, but Runkevicius misses the mark with his big examples.

…Apple uses this power to undermine apps that lock horns with Apple’s services.

Take parental control apps.

Runkevicius complains that Apple removed parental control apps from the App Store after it released Screen Time. This is true, but Apple doesn’t make any money off of Screen Time. The reason it removed some parental control apps is because they were all security nightmares. Because iOS lacked certain control features out of the box, the only way to implement them was via provisioning profiles, which were designed for corporations giving devices to employees. Installing a provisioning profile gives the issuer a significant amount of control and insight into the activities of the user. It’s what you expect when your company gives you a device that’s for work. It’s not what you expect when a third party can creep on your child’s device habits.

Apple also recently denied Microsoft’s xCloud gaming app from joining the App Store. Apple’s motive here couldn’t be more clear. Last year it launched its own gaming subscription service, Apple Arcade…

Apple doesn’t care about competition with Apple Arcade. It cares that Microsoft is selling things for use on iOS and it’s not getting 30 percent of the sale.

Like Microsoft, Apple bundles iPhone’s operating system with its own apps, such as Apple Music or Safari—which restrains competing apps. For example, you can’t replace or remove default apps like Mail or its browser, Safari.

Except you will be able to in iOS 14.

Apple’s abuse of power is now in the spotlight.

It is and rightly so. The App Store rules are as dumb as a sack full of wet Rob Enderles and Apple is likely headed for change whether it likes it or not.

While the horny one agrees with Runkevicius that the company should not make the mistake of having change forced on it rather than getting ahead of it, he thinks the company can still make this mistake and not face the slump that Microsoft did, because most of the Microsoft slump was not due to antitrust enforcement. So, in that regard, the comparison is specious.

On the other hand, you could argue that the HomePod is the Zune of home speaker systems. That actually kind of works.

That’s unnerving.

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