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Apple’s big App Store mess

Apple’s big App Store mess

Good morning! This Wednesday, the antitrust fight against Apple ramps up, social distancing wearables are everywhere, and Teslas go farther than ever.

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People Are Talking

Advertisers can and should push Facebook and others to do better, Nancy Pelosi said:

  • "We need to empower advertisers to continue to object and to use their power to hold social media companies accountable for their bad behavior. This is an undermining of democracy, it is a challenge to people's health, it is just wrong."

Regulators should prevent an Amazon-Google voice assistant takeover, BBC director of radio James Purnell believes:

  • "There is a question about whether we are happy about the biggest organizations in the world, big tech companies with their executives essentially [based] in the [United] States, combining a monopoly in people's kitchens and in living rooms."

Ed Markey explained why he believes the U.S. needs a new National Broadband Plan:

  • "We know that 12 million kids in America right now don't have [internet] access. So there's a big homework gap, which is opening up between those 12 million kids and the kids who do have broadband at home. And we don't want there to be an education gap — and, as a result, an opportunity gap, which opens up in America for the next generation because of this lack of access."

On Protocol: MongoDB is winning the database race, and now it's working on your local data, too:

  • "No database allows you to query both your online data and your offline data. But what people have said is with the data volumes exploding, I can't store everything online because it just becomes so expensive to do, so I want to be able to tier storage."

The Big Story

The trustbusters come for the App Store

Spotify's been complaining to the EU for years that Apple's App Store policies are anticompetitive. Earlier this year, Rakuten filed a similar complaint. And yesterday, the EU responded by launching a formal antitrust investigation into Apple's App Store practices (and a second into whether Apple Pay's NFC capabilities should be opened up to other devices).

  • Also yesterday, I wrote about the team at Basecamp experiencing a version of the same thing, after Apple said it wouldn't allow the new Hey email app into the App Store unless Basecamp allowed people to sign up for an account in the app using Apple's payment tools (and commission).

Here are both sides of the argument, the best I can tell, minus the "it's what's best for the user" part:

  • Developers say that a 15-30% commission in the App Store represents an enormous portion of their revenue, in many cases an untenably large one. They argue that when they're competing with one of Apple's apps, like Music or Mail or Books, the situation becomes even harder. And beyond that, they think Apple tends to create seemingly random rules, enforced seemingly randomly, that make it hard for any developer to ever feel secure.
  • Apple says that those developers are only able to be successful because of thousands of Apple employees working to build the devices, the software, the developer tools, and the App Store infrastructure that support those apps. So Apple thinks it's only fair that it should get its cut. The rules are the rules, as Apple sees it, and they are public and unchanging.

There are fair points on both sides, but the most consistent thing I heard yesterday was that even when Apple's rules are clear, they don't seem to be enforced clearly.

  • "I've always been made to jump through nonsensical hoops, remove features, etc.," Daniel Jalkut, the founder of software developer Red Sweater, tweeted.
  • "We've dealt back-channel style with capricious rejections for years and years and it's so exhausting," wrote Cabel Sasser, the co-founder of Panic, a beloved indie developer.

Apple chalked the EU complaints up to "a handful of companies who simply want a free ride, and don't want to play by the same rules as everyone else."

  • But in every case, this fight's just beginning. The EU's antitrust guru Margrethe Vestager doesn't back down easily. Neither do Basecamp's founders. Neither does Apple. Buckle up for this one, folks.

In related news: Remember Zynn, the TikTok clone I mentioned last week? Apple booted it from the App Store.

Wearables

The hot new thing in wearables: Social distancing

There was a whole generation of technology — Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Airbnb — that was designed to bring people together. It looks increasingly like a new generation will keep people apart.

Amazon introduced its "Distance Assistant," a service that uses the company's extremely precise camera tech to make sure people stay the proper distance apart. If you walk by its enormous screen, you'll see a virtual circle around yourself, which turns red if you're too close to someone else.

  • CNBC also reported that the company's working on a wearable to accomplish the same goal: If you get too close to someone else, your wrist doodad will make a loud noise and flash a bright light.
  • Meanwhile, Samsung's building a smartwatch specifically designed for both social-distancing management and for tracking COVID-19 symptoms.
  • And there are so many more examples. Seriously, so many.

It looked like a global tech solution for social distancing was in sight in the form of the exposure tracking system developed by Apple and Google. But it seems that's going to be more complicated, and more expensive, than many developers hoped. Plus, many people just don't want to use it.

  • Now it looks like social distancing is a problem we're going to have to solve company by company, office by office, floor by floor. Goofy wearable by goofy wearable.

A MESSAGE FROM WORKDAY

Workday

Protocol's Transformation of Work Summit

How can tech help identify and match in-demand skills with job opportunity? Hear from the Future of Work Caucus co-chairs Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Representative Bryan Steil (R-WI), followed by our expert panel with CEO of Jobs for the Future Maria Flynn, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies Matthew Sigelman, CEO of Colorado State University Global Dr. Becky Takeda-Tinker, and Chief People Officer of Aon Lisa Stevens. Presented by Workday.

Register here

Video

Zoom's fighting a feature war on all sides

The way things are going, we're about two weeks away from every Google product turning into a giant button that says TRY GOOGLE MEET IT'S LIKE ZOOM BUT FROM GOOGLE. The buttons grow ever bigger in calendar invites, the integration ever more intrusive in Gmail. And yesterday, Google even removed the need for a separate app — you can do Meet calls right there in Gmail's iOS and Android apps.

  • Meanwhile, BlueJeans announced a bunch of security features, including better encryption, meeting locks and a waiting room.

The two apps are coming at Zoom from opposite sides. Google wants Meet to be the default super-easy-one-click video chat tool. BlueJeans is hoping to win over the security-conscious IT manager who might also like the idea of a service owned by Verizon.

  • As Zoom keeps dealing with the fallout from its decision to shut down the account of a Chinese activist, and from its decision not to offer end-to-end encryption to users who don't pay, competitors are sensing an opportunity to win back users.
  • Even Facebook's getting in on the competition! It announced new features for Portal, including augmented reality and Messenger Rooms.

It continues to amaze me how fast we've gone from "all video chat apps are terrible" to being completely spoiled for choice — and as long as the video demand remains at such crazy levels, the competition's only going to get hotter.

Making Moves

Grindr has a new C-suite: Jeff Bonforte is its new CEO, Rick Marini its COO and Gary Hsueh its CFO. They're part of the investment team that bought the app, after its original acquisition by a Chinese company became a national-security problem.

Darren Walker is Square's newest board member. He's the president of the Ford Foundation, and the company's only current (and third-ever) Black board member.

James Baker is Twitter's newest deputy general counsel. He's a former FBI lawyer, and was a central figure in the probe into the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia. Should be a totally non-controversial appointment, this one.

Maxim Williams is Roku's new VP of inclusion strategy and talent development. He's been at the company since 2018, and CEO Anthony Wood said he'll "work directly with me on our goals, strategy and culture."

Christie Smith, Apple's head of diversity and inclusion, is leaving the company. She's been there since 2017, and the move has apparently been in the works for a few months.

In Other News

  • Facebook launched the Voting Information Center, a place for people to get information about elections, polling places and the like. It also said that rather than moderate political ads itself, it'll let users do it — you'll soon be able to turn off political ads if you want to.
  • On Protocol: Kauffman Fellows is changing the way it does business, and diversifying its board, hoping that by changing the way it trains fellows it can help change the diversity of tech's pipeline.
  • An internal CIA report about its security found that the agency was "woefully lax," and that the breach that led to WikiLeaks publishing CIA tools and documents was only discovered after WikiLeaks published.
  • San Francisco filed an employee protection action against DoorDash, saying that classifying drivers as contractors "deprives them of the labor law safeguards to which they are entitled."
  • On Protocol: Bose is giving up on its AR project, which had taken an unusual audio-first approach to augmenting the world. The reason? The company just couldn't commercialize the tech.
  • Can I interest you in a robot dog? Boston Dynamics is now selling Spot for a cool $74,500, and I suspect it can do more stuff than your current dog. Significantly less cuddly, though.
  • Apple's not promising Tim Cook will testify to Congress. Sundar Pichai, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg all seem likely to appear in front of an antitrust panel, but POLITICO reported that Apple's reluctant to send Cook along.
  • Tesla is reportedly deep in discussions with Travis County, Texas, over incentives that could help establish Tesla manufacturing in Austin.

One More Thing

400 miles is the magic number

Tesla hit a big milestone yesterday: Its latest version of the Model S Long Range Plus has an official range of 402 miles, becoming the first electric car to pass the 400-mile threshold. It's been a long time coming. Tesla was going to hit it "soon" a year ago, then "soon" in January, and then Tesla thought it had, but the EPA found the range topped out at 391 miles. On the one hand: Who cares? Most trips are only a few miles, and Tesla's previous 370-mile range was … plenty. On the other, it turns out to be the range consumers have come to expect from their gas cars, and also the magical number at which most people's range anxiety goes away. Call me when the range hits 564 miles, and I can do San Francisco to the Las Vegas Strip in one charge.

A MESSAGE FROM WORKDAY

Workday

Protocol's Transformation of Work Summit

How can tech help identify and match in-demand skills with job opportunity? Hear from the Future of Work Caucus co-chairs Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Representative Bryan Steil (R-WI), followed by our expert panel with CEO of Jobs for the Future Maria Flynn, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies Matthew Sigelman, CEO of Colorado State University Global Dr. Becky Takeda-Tinker, and Chief People Officer of Aon Lisa Stevens. Presented by Workday.

Register here

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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