Apple‘s restrictive development policy for iPad and iPhone 4.0 apps may have broader effects than simply pissing off software developers and the Slashdotters who love them. According to a New York Post report this morning, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are both considering slapping Apple with an antitrust inquiry — which is not a full-scale antitrust investigation, but which typically precedes such investigations — and the only thing “lock[ing] up negotiations” is which of the two agencies should take the lead.
According to the Post,
Regulators, [the Post’s source] said, are days away from making a decision about which agency will launch the inquiry. It will focus on whether the policy, which took effect last month, kills competition by forcing programmers to choose between developing apps that can run only on Apple gizmos or come up with apps that are platform neutral, and can be used on a variety of operating systems, such as those from rivals Google, Microsoft and Research In Motion.
In forcing computer programmers to choose developing an Apple-exclusive app over one that can be used on Apple and rival devices simultaneously, critics say Apple is hampering competition since the expense involved in creating an app will lead developers with limited budgets to focus on one format, not two. Generally, app developers are paid from a cut of the revenue generated when consumers buy the app.
Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, for his part, thinks that the anonymously sourced report should be taken with “a grain of salt,” given its origins in the Post, but Reuters has since filed a second (similarly anonymous) report backing up the Post‘s conclusions, adding that their source said Apple’s policy — which, among other things, bans the use of compilers for easy Flash-to-iPhone conversion — is “anticompetitive.” Moreover, the DoJ and FTC both declined to comment to the Post and to other inquirers when asked about the allegations.
Once again, an antitrust inquiry is a degree away from an investigation, which is another degree away from legal action; still, it will be interesting to see how this unfolds over the days to come.
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