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Apple and Google pressed in antitrust hearing on whether app stores share data with product development teams

In today’s antitrust hearing in the U.S. Senate, Apple and Google representatives were questioned on whether they have a “strict firewall” or other internal policies in place that prevent them from leveraging the data from third-party businesses operating on their app stores to inform the development of their own competitive products. Apple, in particular, was called out for the practice of copying other apps by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who said the practice had become so common that it earned a nickname with Apple’s developer community: “sherlocking.”

Sherlock, which has its own Wikipedia entry under software, comes from Apple’s search tool in the early 2000’s called Sherlock. A third-party developer, Karelia Software, created an alternative tool called Watson. Following the success of Karelia’s product, Apple added Watson’s same functionality into its own search tool, and Watson was effectively put out of business. The nickname “Sherlock” later became shorthand for any time Apple copies an idea from a third-party developer that threatens to or even destroys their business.

Over the years, developers claimed Apple has “sherlocked” a number of apps including Konfabulator (desktop widgets), iPodderX (podcast manager), Sandvox (app for building websites), Growl (a notification system for Mac OS X), and in more recent years, F.lux (blue light reduction tool for screens) Duet and Luna (apps that makes iPad a secondary display), as well as various screen time management tools. Now Tile claims Apple has also unfairly entered its market with AirTag.

During his questioning, Blumenthal asked Apple and Google’s representatives at the hearing — Mr. Kyle Andeer, Apple’s
Chief Compliance Officer and Mr. Wilson White, Google’s Senior Director Public Policy & Government Relations, respectively — if they employed any sort of “firewall” in between their app stores and their business strategy.

Andeer somewhat dodged the question, saying, “Senator, if I understand the question correctly, we have separate teams that manage the App Store and that are engaged in product development strategy here at Apple.”

Blumenthal then clarified what he meant by “firewall.” He explained that it doesn’t mean whether or not there are separate teams in place, but whether there’s an internal prohibition on sharing data between the App Store and the people who run Apple’s other businesses.

Andeer then answered, “Senator, we have controls in place.”

He went on to note that over the past twelve years, Apple has only introduced “a handful of applications and services,” and in every instance, there are “dozens of alternatives” on the App Store. And, sometimes, the alternatives are more popular than Apple’s own product, he noted.

“We don’t copy. We don’t kill. What we do is offer up a new choice and a new innovation,” Andeer stated.

His argument may hold true when there are strong rivalries, like Spotify versus Apple Music, or Netflix versus Apple TV+, or Kindle versus Apple Books. But it’s harder to stretch it to areas where Apple makes smaller enhancements — like when Apple introduced Sidecar, a feature that allowed users to make their iPad a secondary display. Sidecar ended the need for a third-party app, after apps like Duet and Luna first proved the market.

Another example was when Apple built screen time controls into its iOS software, but didn’t provide the makers of third-party screen time apps with an API so consumers could use their preferred apps to configure Apple’s Screen Time settings via the third-party’s specialized interface or take advantage of other unique features.

Blumenthal said he interpreted Andeer’s response as to whether Apple has a “data firewall” as a “no.”

Posed the same question, Google’s representative, Mr. White said his understanding was that Google had “data access controls in place that govern how data from our third-party services are used.”

Blumenthal pressed him to clarify if this was a “firewall,” meaning, he clarified again, “do you have a prohibition against access?”

“We have a prohibition against using our third-party services to compete directly with our first-party services,” Mr. White said, adding that Google has “internal policies that govern that.”

The Senator said he would follow up on this matter with written questions, as his time expired.

Apple’s iBooks revamp, Apple Books, is here

Apple’s new and improved iBooks app, now called Apple Books, has popped up on iPhones across the world today with the release of iOS 12, the software update available to download as of this morning.

The new app has five tabs: Reading Now, Library, Book Store, Search and, for the first time, a dedicated Audiobooks tab.

Apple first previewed it at WWDC in June. The company said its sleek new look was the “biggest books redesign ever.” Cleaner UI, coupled with larger images, gives the app a more modern feel and an overall better experience. More importantly, it sets up Apple to better compete with other audio/e-book apps, like the Amazon-owned Audible.

In the Book Store, users can explore recently released titles and best-selling books, as well as curated collections and special offers; it’s available in 51 countries and free books for download are available in 155 countries.

Apple Books is also a lot smarter than its predecessor. As you download titles and engage with the app, the app will send you personalized recommendations based on your activity.

Indeed, it was time for an update. Audiobooks are more popular today than when Apple first launched iBooks in 2010 and are very much deserving of their own tab. According to Pew Research Center, one in five Americans regularly listens to them — a 28 percent increase from 2016.

Hey Apple, here’s how to show the world you love books with iOS 12

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Dear Tim Cook: Do you even read books, bro?

Now that iOS 12 has been released in public beta, non-developers are getting their first look at the next-generation operating system for iPhone and iPad. And one of the most anticipated aspects of iOS 12, at least for an e-bibliophile like myself, is the Apple Books app, formerly known as iBooks

Hands-on previews with Books have done the rounds already. But they all looked at Apple’s built-in library, which is minimal. I couldn’t wait to see how it handled a real reading situation, with a serious pre-existing collection — especially given that I’d had troubles with iBooks and my 1,600-plus e-book library in the recent past. So I downloaded the beta, fully aware I’d be dealing with bugs.  Read more…

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