Apple may face anti-trust investigation

The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice are considering investigating Apple over anti-trust concerns relating to mobile devices – they just need to decide which of them will handle the investigation.

According to the New York Post, the investigation will focus on Apple’s new policy requiring software developers for the iPhone and iPad to use only Apple’s programming tools. This means developers are effectively forced to produce Apple-specific apps rather than platform-neutral versions.

Previously, they could develop an app in Flash, for example, and then recompile it for the iPhone rather than having to build a new app from scratch.

Last week Apple founder Steve Jobs wrote a scathing attack on Adobe Flash, calling it ‘closed and proprietary’ – a touch ironic given the proposed anti-trust enquiry. The company claims that allowing developers to use third-party tools such as Flash would result in substandard applications.

The inquiry is expected to be launched in the next few days. It may not lead to a full investigation, as the regulators will have to show that Apple’s move adversely affects competition for consumers.

Apple can argue, however, that it doesn’t dominate the smartphone market – it’s currently third, after Nokia and RIM.

Another possibility is that the government may launch an investigation based on anti-competitive behaviour, which might be easier to establish – it would mean demonstrating only that the company has acted unfairly.