Apple unlikely to change SDK to fend off antitrust inquiry, says expert

Any such change could be seen as 'evidence of wrongdoing,' argues attorney

Apple may revamp its developers license to parry possible antitrust inquiries that were triggered by an Adobe complaint filed with federal regulators, reports claimed today.

But a reversal by Apple may not be enough at this point, an antitrust expert argued.

Yesterday, several media sources, including the New York Post, reported that officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) were mulling a possible antitrust investigation of Apple. The DOJ and FTC are allegedly looking into a recent Apple decision to block software developers from using cross-platform compilers when they create programs for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

Apple may try to fend off those inquiries by again changing the iPhone 4 SDK (software developers kit) licensing language, the Wall Street Journal said today in a story that cited an unnamed source.

That would do more harm than good, countered one expert.

"It's unlikely that Apple would unilaterally change its licensing agreement," said Hillard Sterling, an antitrust attorney at Chicago-based law firm Freeborn & Peters LLP. "Such a change may help preempt some potential government claims, but the FTC and/or DOJ may be preparing a larger case in which the licensing terms are just a part," Sterling continued in an e-mail. "Also, the change may be used by the government as evidence of wrongdoing with the initial terms. It's more likely that Apple would agree to change the agreement as part of a settlement, which would include a release protecting Apple from those potential consequences."

Some developer tools makers also don't think a change in the SDK is necessary. In an interview last week after Apple CEO Steve Jobs trashed Adobe's Flash, Scott Schwarzhoff, vice president of marketing at Mountain View, Calif.-based Appcelerator said his company agrees with Apple. Appcelerator sells a cross-platform compiler that lets Web developers recompile JavaScript and HTML applications into native iPhone code.

"We're in agreement with Apple on their two main points," said Schwarzhoff, referring to Jobs' anti-Flash missive. "First, that it's all about the unique iPhone experience, and preserving and pushing that. Second, that open technologies are preferred." JavaScript, Schwarzhoff argued, was an open technology, while Flash was not.

Although Appcelerator has been in contact with Apple about the same SDK licensing language that reportedly drove Adobe to complain to federal antitrust regulators, it has not yet gotten assurance that Titanium-compiled applications will be allowed into Apple's App Store. "We are confident that they will," Schwarzhoff said.

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