Which is eviler? Apple, Facebook or Google?

Three monopolies. All vying to be the next Microsoft. Will one of them succeed, and will it cost you dearly?

Today, I officially announce the end of the Wintel hegemony. Like IBM before it -- heck, even the Roman Empire starting about 19 centuries ago -- Wintel will continue to dominate huge swaths of the technology industry, while rapidly declining in relevance. Perhaps duopolies Microsoft and Intel will make a last rally, maybe by changing leadership, and hold out longer against the advancing mobile-to-cloud hordes. Rome's decline was long, so could be Wintel's.

But decline is inevitable because both companies are so entrenched in their commingled personal computing monopolies. The PC is giving way to the mobile device connected to the cloud. Morgan Stanley predicts that the number of mobile Internet users, 1.6 billion, will exceed desktop Internet users by 2015. This week, Apple announced shipment of 1 million iPads, in a category I asserted shouldn't succeed. Apple's App Store has more than 200,000 mobile applications. Change is coming, and faster than most people think.

Intel is trying to move downmarket, with this week's Atom Z6xx family of processors, which are designed for smartphones and other low-power consumption devices. Om Malik isn't impressed, writing in post "Why Intel Will Be a Mobile Loser":

Take a step back, and it becomes very clear that the company is facing competition from deep-pocketed, well-entrenched competitors -- and they're no pushovers. Because it had a monopoly on PC chips, and faced feeble competition in the x86 world, Intel managed to put its rivals out of business and maintain very fat margins, making it one of the most beloved stocks of the 1990s...

Unlike in the PC market, where Intel's best competitor was an anemic AMD, its mobile industry rivals are pretty cash-rich. And none is stronger than Qualcomm, which in many ways is a proxy on the fast-growing Android smartphone market...If Qualcomm is a fearsome competitor in the Android ecosystem, Intel is locked out of the Apple ecosystem. Apple has bet the farm on its internal chip technologies such as the ARM-based A4 currently being used inside the iPad.

Then there is Microsoft. Verizon is taking orders for KIN, the first Microsoft-branded smartphone, which received mixed to poor reviews. Microsoft has fallen behind newcomers Apple and Google in mobile phones, and KIN won't close the distance. Then there is the cloud, where Intel is clueless, Microsoft hawks Amazon-like storage services and Microsoft vaporously tries to carry its productivity suite monopoly forward with Docs.com for Facebook. Intel and Microsoft may be money machines, but they are secondary players in the mobile device-to-cloud platform. There Apple, Facebook and Google vie for dominance, and increasingly they compete with one another more than either Intel or Microsoft -- surest sign of Wintel's decline. Another sign: Follow the buzz. It's more about the three new monopolies than the two older ones.

Apple Evildoings

But which new monopoly will dominate or come to co-exist with one of the others? More importantly, would be the lesser evil -- ah, better choice?

Apple has two monopolies -- portable music players and, more importantly, mobile applications. Apple feeds off rich margins in the mobile market (laptops as well as iPad, iPhone and iPod touch), like Intel long reaped them from PC processors. Recently, though, resurgent Apple is showing that it will be an aggressive and intolerant monopolist:

  • Apple shut out Adobe Flash on iPhone OS devices.
  • Section 3.3.1 of Apple's iPhone OS 4 developer agreement goes further -- prohibiting cross-platform tools that would enable Flash, Java and other technologies.
  • Last week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs' "Thoughts on Flash" memo made clear developers will use Apple-sanctioned tools; Flash be damned.
  • Apple exercises editorial control over mobile applications, which could someday affect mainstream media like New York Times or Wall Street Journal publishing on iPad.
  • Apple compelled an apology from comedian Ellen DeGeneres for her very reasonable iPhone parody. Apple is a marketing partner for American Idol, where DeGeneres is a judge.
  • Apple has started rejecting apps with "pad" in the name, contending they infringe on the iPad trademark.
  • Apple's promise to allow on iPhone OS 4 advertising platforms competing with iAd effectively proves false, because of prohibitions against third-party data collection.

Perhaps there are reasons why when I asked Betanews readers if Apple had gone too far, you resoundingly answered "Yes!" Then there are alleged anticompetitive tactics, about which the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice jockey over which agency might open an Apple investigationGoogle's 10 things -- its corporate philosophy -- asserts in #6: "You can make money without doing evil." This statement has come to be a measure applied to other companies. So, is Apple doing evil to make money? You tell me, please, in comments.

Facebook Evildoings

Facebook is a troubling monopoly. The social network is a black hole sucking all kinds of activities from other Web services, including blogs and photo-and-video sharing services. It's the watering hole for nearly 500 million subscribers, and it is increasingly a place where brands market (you know, fan pages). Then there are applications. Like iPhone OS, Facebook is a development platform. But where Apple drives the platform from mobile device through apps to the cloud, Facebook pushes from the cloud to devices.

Facebook isn't just popular, it's aggressive and looking to crush established privacy mores for the purpose of making money. The company has a long history of seemingly evil behavior:

  • Three Harvard University seniors accused Mark Zuckerberg of using some of their ideas to create Facebook; he did work for them on HarvardConnection.com. The parties settled a court case in September 2008.
  • Facebook has repeatedly flouted privacy conventions, particularly with a series of redesigns starting in September 2008. Each redesign exposed more user information by default.
  • Installing applications discloses subscriber information to the publisher.
  • The May 2010 Facebook redesign is one of the most aggressive, forcing subscribers to either link Profile information to public pages or remove it altogether.
  • Facebook founder Zuckerberg reportedly doesn't believe in privacy, that it no longer is a "social norm."

Perhaps money matters more. Facebook can profit from relaxed privacy in ways Google executives could only dream of. As good as Google search tools are, Facebook could do much more by tying mined data to real identities, which is the underlying goal of frameworks Connections, Like and Open Graph. Some pundits rightly observe that Facebook's new social tools would intertwine the service into the very fabric of the Internet. In essence, Facebook becomes the Web. Is any of that evil? Once again, you tell me, please, in comments.

Google Evildoings

In February I asserted: "Google is a dangerous monopoly -- more than Microsoft ever was." I also asked: "Why is Google suddenly so evil?" My how things can change in just two months. Since those posts, Apple and Facebook have taken on auras of renewed aggressiveness. Suddenly, Google looks lots less evil today than it did more than two months ago. Still, Google is an aggressive monopolist. Some recent, ah, evil concerns:

  • Google's basic business is disruptive. The company offers free content others produced for some cost; Google profits by wrapping around search and keywords.
  • No one really knows what Google does with the digital equivalent to mountains of data it collects through search and other tools. Is your privacy at risk?
  • In early February, Google Buzz launched with default privacy settings open. The service laid bear user activity, leveraging Gmail in process.
  • Also in early February, Google shut down six popular music blogs, abiding by DCMA take-down requests. The majority of the blogs had acquired permission to offer the content.
  • In an apparent violation of "fair use" laws, in late April Google took down or disabled dozens of YouTube "Downfall" parodies, which used the same scene from the Hitler drama. The movie's distributor demanded the takedowns.
  • Irony: Google takes down some pirated content from YouTube while its search engine helps aggregators pirate content from thousands of news organizations.

Google is aggressively pushing its monopoly, which size by various analyst estimates in the United States is 66 percent search share and 80-plus percent online advertising share. The company is tying together disparate services into a vertical applications stack extending from the cloud back to mobile devices, where Google also offers mobile operating system Android. Is Google evil? It's a frequently asked question. Please offer your answer in comments.

In a future post, I'll explore where and how these three monopolies compete with each other and to the declining Wintel duopoly. But briefly, Apple and Google will fight it out on mobile platforms and mobile search and some cloud services. Facebook and Google will compete for search, marketing intelligence and broad cloud services. Apple and Facebook will compete for platform relevance/dominance -- whether developers write applications for the mobile device or to the cloud service.

How evil is any of this? Let the commenting offer the first answers.

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