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Apple facing antitrust probe over Flash apps ban

A month after rewriting its iPhone Developer Program License Agreement to mandate that all iPhone and iPod touch applications must be written to run directly on the iPhone platform, effectively banning cross-compiler translation tools like Adobe Systems’ Flash Professional CS5, Apple reportedly faces a federal antitrust inquiry to determine whether its actions threaten competition by forcing developers to focus on one platform to the exclusion of others. Citing a source familiar with the matter, The New York Post reports the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are currently in negotiations to determine which organization will initiate the antitrust probe. The report notes that a federal inquiry does not necessarily indicate regulators will take action against Apple, but serves instead to determine whether a full-scale investigation is warranted–if so, Apple likely would receive a subpoena seeking additional information on its decision to update its developer rules. Both the DOJ and FTC declined comment; Apple did not return requests for comment.

Apple updated the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement early last month in conjunction with the release of its iPhone OS 4.0 SDK. Section 3.3.1 of the agreement now reads “Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).”

The change was perceived in many quarters as a direct attack on Adobe–Apple CEO Steve Jobs has both publicly and privately stated his distaste for the Flash multimedia platform. In the wake of the developer license update, Adobe said it will cease investment on solutions targeting the iPhone platform. “As developers for the iPhone have learned, if you want to develop for the iPhone you have to be prepared for Apple to reject or restrict your development at anytime, and for seemingly any reason,” Adobe product manager Mike Chambers wrote on his blog. “The primary goal of Flash has always been to enable cross browser, platform and device development. The cool web game that you build can easily be targeted and deployed to multiple platforms and devices. However, this is the exact opposite of what Apple wants. They want to tie developers down to their platform, and restrict their options to make it difficult for developers to target other platforms.”

Jobs issued an open letter last week to outline the thinking behind his decision to block support for Flash across devices running the iPhone OS. In summary, Jobs takes issue with Adobe’s contention that Flash is an open system, security, battery life and touchscreen interaction before arriving at what he calls “the most important reason”–control. “We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform,” Jobs writes. “If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features. We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.” (The full text of the letter is available here.)

For more on the antitrust inquiry:
- read this New York Post article

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