DOJ, FTC decline comment on Apple antitrust report

New York Post cites source claiming agencies may probe rival dev tools ban

The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) both declined comment today on a report that the agencies may investigate Apple over antitrust charges linked to its ban of rival development tools for iPhone and iPad software.

According to the New York Post, regulators are tussling over which agency will jumpstart an antitrust inquiry into Apple's new policy, which blocks software developers from using cross-platform compilers, such as the one Adobe offers to Flash programmers, when they build programs for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

In early April, Apple modified the licensing agreement for its iPhone 4 SDK (software developers kit) to bar developers from using cross-platform compilers, tools that let them write in one programmer framework -- say, Flash, JavaScript or .Net -- and then recompile it in native code for another platform, like the iPhone or iPad.

Most analysts have agreed that the move was directly aimed at Adobe and the cross-platform compiler included in Flash Professional CS5. Two weeks ago, Adobe acknowledged it was the target when it canceled future development of the compiler.

Last week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs trashed Flash as "no longer necessary" on mobile devices, and wrote at length about why Adobe's development tool was being banned.

"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," argued Jobs in an open letter. "We cannot accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitors' platforms."

Citing a single, unnamed source, the Post claimed that the Department of Justice and the FTC were only "days away from making a decision about which agency will launch the inquiry."

Spokespersons for the two agencies declined to comment when reached by telephone today. Adobe also declined comment. Apple did not reply to a request seeking comment.

Regulators typically query the involved parties by letter prior to opening an investigation, asking for comment or requesting answers to questions. When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched an investigation last year into Apple's rejection of Google Voice for the iPhone, it sent letters with a list of questions to both Apple and Google.

Apple's iPhone currently owns 16.4% of the smartphone market, according to data released last week by the market research firm Strategy Analytics. Leader Nokia controls 38.2% of the global market, the company said last Friday, while BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion (RIM) accounts for 19.7%.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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