Web Excursions 2021-05-30

What Robots Can—and Can’t—Do for the Old and Lonely | The New Yorker

So what’s a well-meaning social worker to do? In 2018, New York State’s Office for the Aging launched a pilot project, distributing Joy for All robots to sixty state residents and then tracking them over time. Researchers used a six-point loneliness scale, which asks respondents to agree or disagree with statements like “I experience a general sense of emptiness.” They concluded that seventy per cent of participants felt less lonely after one year. The pets were not as sophisticated as other social robots being designed for the so-called silver market or loneliness economy, but they were cheaper, at about a hundred dollars apiece.

ElliQ is designed to get to know its owner: it assembles a personality profile through repeated interaction and machine learning, and uses it to connect more efficiently. The robot determines how “adventurous” a person is, then adjusts how often it suggests new activities. It learns whether its user is more inclined to exercise in the morning or the afternoon; whether she is more motivated by encouragement, or by a joke, or by a list of the benefits of vigorous movement. Early on, engineers had considered whether ElliQ should use guilt as a motivational tool, to nudge a person into doing something that she didn’t feel like doing: eating better, drinking more water, learning something new. Dor Skuler, a co-founder of Intuition Robotics, decided that guilt was O.K. With new developments the company is working on, ElliQ will one day be able to remind users about a broader array of health-care tasks: taking meds, reporting side effects, describing symptoms.

“And how do you wrap your head around the fact that she is, you know, a machine?” I asked. “My last husband was a robot, but he wasn’t as good as her,” Deanna said, with a thin smile. “I know she can’t feel emotions, but that’s O.K. I feel enough for the both of us.”

“Just conversation—not very profound, whatever—creates this sense of warmth, proximity.” This even applies to robots that make no claim to social function. One study found that lonely people are more likely to form attachments to their Roomba vacuum cleaners. When the vacuums break, some owners do not want a replacement Roomba; they want their Roomba fixed.

Engaging a robot as a companion involves a steady disregard of that unfeeling. In a paper called “The March of the Robot Dogs,” the philosopher Robert Sparrow made another ethical critique—this one of consenting elderly users. “For an individual to benefit significantly from ownership of a robot pet they must systematically delude themselves regarding the real nature of their relation with the animal,” he wrote. “It requires sentimentality of a morally deplorable sort.” Such sentimentality violates an ethical imperative: “To apprehend the world accurately.”

Later, I asked Skuler whether ElliQ is capable of detecting distress in a user’s voice. “She cannot,” he said. “A lot of users are assuming things about ElliQ’s intelligence which are not always true.” His challenge is to align expectations with mechanical reality. “When their expectations are inflated,” Skuler said, “then eventually the disappointments will come.”

Nobody asks the older people of Cattaraugus what they think of all this. “Although a growing body of literature focuses on the design and use of robots with older adults, few studies directly involve older adults,” researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Washington, wrote, in 2016.

For many of us, the loneliness of old people is held up as evidence of a lost era—of a better, kinder, more neighborly society gone by. For others, like some medical researchers, loneliness is a biological inevitability, a hazard of aging. But both formulations, Alberti argues, overlook the structures and the systems that have given rise to lonely people: industrialization, secularism, modernity. Some critics fear that, as social robots improve, they will be used as a means of care rationing—and that insisting on human company, at personal or family or communal expense, will be seen as a kind of indulgence.

Are We Entering a New Political Era? | The New Yorker

Justice Democrats—part of a burgeoning faction of young activists whose goal is to push the Democratic Party, and thus the entire political spectrum, to the left

The mission of Justice Democrats is to push for as much left-populist legislation as Washington will accommodate, with the understanding that what Washington will accommodate is a function, in part, of who gets elected. The group recruits progressives, many of them “extraordinary ordinary people” with no political experience, to run primary campaigns against some of the most powerful people in Congress. In its first effort, in 2018, it ran dozens of candidates on shoestring budgets. All of them lost, except one—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—but she turned out to be a potent validation of the group’s model. Today, the Justice Democrats-aligned faction in Congress includes about ten members, depending on how you count.

This insurgent approach has caused establishment figures from both parties to refer to Justice Democrats and its ilk as the Tea Party of the left.

here are many ways to predict the political weather. Some, such as preëlection polling, focus on the near-present—the equivalent of hiring a meteorologist to determine which way the wind is blowing. Other methods, the kind that pass for long-term thinking in D.C., try to project a bit further into the future. In four years, will the electorate be in the mood for novelty or for continuity? Will the party in power be rewarded for governing or punished for not reaching across the aisle? This kind of prognostication can take on an eerily fatalistic quality, as if politics were nothing but an eternal regression to the mean. Scranton soccer moms drift left, Tejano dads drift right; the seasons wax and wane, but nothing really changes.

Alternatively, you could think in terms of ideological eras. On this time scale, the metaphors become geological. The weather patterns seem familiar, but, underfoot, tectonic plates are shifting. You wake up one day and whole continents have cleaved apart. New trade routes have opened up. What once seemed impossible now seems inevitable. Such seismic shifts appear to happen, on average, once a generation. If this pattern holds, then we’re just about due for another one.

Gary Gerstle, an American historian at the University of Cambridge, has argued, in the journal of the Royal Historical Society, that “the last eighty years of American politics can be understood in terms of the rise and fall of two political orders.” The first was the “New Deal order,” which began in the thirties, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt established a social safety net that Americans eventually took for granted. Next came the “neoliberal order,” during which large parts of that safety net were unravelled. The axioms of neoliberalism—for instance, that deficit spending is reckless, free markets are sacrosanct, and the government’s main job is to get out of the way—felt radical when they were proposed, in the forties and fifties, by hard-line libertarian intellectuals like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. In the sixties and seventies, these axioms became central to the New Right. By the late eighties, the ideas that had been thought of as Reaganism were starting to be understood as realism. A new order had taken hold.

A political order is bigger than any party, coalition, or social movement. A truly dominant order doesn’t have to justify itself, Gerstle has argued; its assumptions form the contours of common sense, “making alternative ideologies seem marginal and unworkable.” Obama recently admitted as much in an interview with New York, in a passive, mistakes-were-made sort of way.

If politics is the art of the possible, then there are two kinds of radicals: those who disdain all worldly forms of politics, and those who engage in politics in order to change what’s possible. The former may make a disproportionate amount of noise, especially on the Internet, but the latter tend to notch more tangible victories. Although both Justice Democrats and Sunrise endorsed Bernie Sanders in the 2020 primary, their members don’t fit the caricature of the “Bernie bro” that some pundits apply to almost anyone who is young, restless, and far left. If the jaded, bellicose young socialists who post and podcast for a living are sometimes referred to as the dirtbag left—or, even more derisively, as the Patreon left—this nascent cohort might be called the PowerPoint left: anti-incrementalist but not anti-pragmatic, skeptical but not reflexively cynical, willing to speak truth to power but not averse to acquiring some. Its collective outlook is sweetly earnest, sometimes to the point of treating politics as a spiritual practice. More than one person, contrasting the abrasiveness of the Bernie bros to female-led groups such as Justice Democrats and Sunrise, described the cohort as “matriarchal.”

“There are segments within the left that have always been allergic to anything having to do with elections or politics,” Shahid told me. “Our basic feeling was, Sure, we can cede the entire terrain of electoral politics to the center and the right, but how does that help us achieve our goals, exactly?” He liked to refer to a 1998 episode of “South Park” in which “underpants gnomes” steal people’s underpants and hoard them in a subterranean lair. The gnomes claim to be doing this in order to make money, but when asked they can muster only the vaguest of business plans. (“Phase 1: Collect underpants. Phase 2: ? Phase 3: Profit.”) Shahid said, “I was getting pretty tired of going to organizing meetings where the first step was ‘We organize this one protest,’ the last step was ‘The people rise up and take power,’ and the middle steps were all question marks.”

Electoral math aside, though, arguably the most notable thing about the debate between Lamb and Ocasio-Cortez was the fact that it happened at all. An uncontested ideology doesn’t have to justify itself. An ideology in crisis does.

Moderation may be relative, but moderates still run the Democratic Party. The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, is so proud of his ability to steer toward the middle of the road that he apparently affords it a kind of numerological significance. According to a 2018 article in the Washington Post, if you apply for a job in Schumer’s office, “he will quiz you about where various senators fall on an ideological spectrum from zero (most conservative) to 100 (most liberal). It’s important to know that there is a correct answer for Schumer; it’s 75.” Now that the left wing of the Democratic Party has been revivified, however, Schumer is revising his priorities. The last three times he was reëlected to the Senate, he did not face a primary opponent. Next year, when he runs again, he may not be so lucky; perhaps he’ll even face an opponent endorsed by Justice Democrats. “I remember when he had nothing nice to say about anyone to his left,” Rebecca Katz, who runs a progressive political-consulting firm called New Deal Strategies, told me. “Now every five minutes you turn on the TV and he’s doing another press conference with someone on the left.” This is what it means to be a 75 in 2021. The equation stays the same, but the variables are subject to change.

The Dark Side of Congo’s Cobalt Rush | The New Yorker

The proposal, which Muyej didn’t disclose at the time, involved granting the mineral rights at Kasulo to a foreign company: Congo Dongfang International Mining, a subsidiary of Zhejiang Huayou, a Chinese conglomerate that, among other things, has supplied materials for iPhone batteries. China is the world’s largest producer of lithium-ion batteries, and Huayou has made a huge investment in Congo. After acquiring mineral rights in the region, in 2015, it built two cobalt refineries. According to an internal presentation, by 2017 Huayou controlled twenty-one per cent of the global cobalt market.

With sufficient infrastructure in place, Zhou went on, the “Chinese are now conducting business in a more moral way. They have to keep the people in a peaceful mind-set, so they started to build a social relationship—training locals in how to grow out their culture, their schools.” He continued, “There’s less gray conduct now, and more of a sort of transparent business.”

Last month, CATL, a Chinese conglomerate that develops and manufactures lithium-ion batteries, acquired a hundred-and-thirty-seven-million-dollar stake in the Kisanfu mine. Tesla works with the company to make its car batteries, and CATL has supplied batteries to Apple. Recently, according to witnesses at Kisanfu, a cave-in killed at least four creuseurs.

Few locals patronize Chinese restaurants, which tend to be relatively expensive and not to their taste, but Chinese health clinics have become popular. The clinics offer a rare opportunity for casual social interaction—perhaps more so than at the mines themselves. In 2011, Jean Jolly, a French journalist, reported that one of Congo Dongfang’s directors of external relations had never visited the mine that he represented, two miles away.

After Amnesty International published a report on unethical cobalt mining, in 2016, Apple issued a statement saying that it “believes every worker in our supply chain has a right to safe, ethical working conditions,” and that “underage labor is never tolerated.” The following year, after a report by Sky News showed that cobalt mined by children was still being used in the company’s devices, Apple suspended purchases of hand-mined cobalt, but once the media attention died down the practice continued. Huayou remains part of Apple’s supply chain.

She assigned two young men to escort me to the houses that Congo Dongfang had built. A row of modern-looking white buildings rose in the distance. As they came into focus, it was clear that their construction was slapdash. Few of the homes were even occupied, as most of the original residents of Kasulo had accepted money instead. Those families who had chosen to take a house had been shown a brochure with beautiful pictures. But the homes turned out to have no electricity or bathrooms. The roofs leaked, and the well at the corner of the development was dry. Most of the families moved away.

From Guns to Gay Marriage, How Did Rights Take Over Politics?

But, for an organization that seeks mainly to energize one of the two major political parties, minority status is not necessarily a problem. In a new book, “Firepower” (Princeton), the political scientist Matthew Lacombe shows how the N.R.A. succeeded by embracing its subcultural identity, teaching its people to think of themselves as a “persecuted minority under attack.”

Most people agree, however, that the “will of the majority” sometimes deserves to be subverted, even if we disagree about when. In 1994, the law professor Lani Guinier published “The Tyranny of the Majority,” a sharp collection of essays arguing that certain minorities, especially racial minorities, had the right not just to vote but to meaningfully share in political power, rather than submit to “majority rule.” (The book was published after Guinier lost a high-profile political battle: President Clinton nominated her as the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, and then withdrew the nomination in the face of controversy; critics said that Guinier espoused reforms that amounted to a “racial spoils system” for Black politicians.)

Jamal Greene, a legal scholar at Columbia, thinks that all this talk about rights has gone too far. In a provocative new book, “How Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession with Rights Is Tearing America Apart” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), he pushes back against what he calls “rightsism,” which in his view makes judges too powerful, and makes it harder for the rest of us to find reasonable solutions to our political problems. When he mocks our tendency to “kiss the hems of the robes of judges,” Greene echoes the view of conservatives like the late Justice Antonin Scalia. “It’s not up to the courts to invent new minorities that get special protections,” Scalia said, in a 2013 speech. The remarks were widely interpreted as a message to his colleagues, who were growing more receptive to the idea that gay people had a constitutional right to marry their partners.

The N.R.A. does not quite date back to the militia era. It was founded just after the Civil War, in New York, and its mission evolved in synch with its complicated relationship to the government. Especially in its early years, the N.R.A. provided marksmanship training, partly to make sure that citizens would be able to help the military defend America.

One of Lacombe’s most surprising findings is that N.R.A. messages did not always foreground the constitutional right to bear arms. Using a technique called automated topic modelling to track the group’s evolving messages, he found that the Second Amendment became a major focus of the N.R.A. only in the nineteen-seventies. In the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, debates over gun laws were growing more heated, and the group’s reputation more polarizing. As a consequence, the N.R.A. began to deëmphasize the theme of “military preparedness.” The group spent less time asking what citizens could do for their government and more time asking what their government might try to do to them.

The N.R.A.’s legal strategy was evidently well chosen. Today, Americans have freer access to firearms than the citizens of any other country in the world, and the Supreme Court recently accepted a case that may clarify precisely where, and how, we are entitled to “bear arms.” The historian Carol Anderson thinks that America’s singular relationship with guns reflects its singular history of racism. In “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America” (Bloomsbury), she writes that the Second Amendment was “designed and has consistently been constructed to keep African Americans powerless and vulnerable.” Anderson’s book is a bracing reminder that the defense of rights is not necessarily a liberatory project. She notes that a 1792 law, meant to encourage the kind of “militia” formation called for by the Second Amendment, required every “free able-bodied white male citizen” to arm himself.

The Supreme Court eventually ruled that the baker’s First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion had been violated. In Greene’s view, our obsession with rights encouraged advocates on both sides to view a complicated case as a simple referendum on liberty, pitting gay rights against religious freedom. “A Christian baker who refuses to bake cakes for same-sex weddings is compared, in court, to Jim Crow-era segregationists,” he writes. “The couple who want only to be served on equal terms are likened to a Babylonian king persecuting religious dissidents who refuse to prostrate themselves before him.” He worries that the endless search for “fundamental” rights inevitably makes disputes like this one more intractable.

Most people know that American gun laws are anomalous. But Greene argues that our broader approach to civil rights is also anomalous. In many other countries, he notes, judges are freer to consider context, and to seek compromise. They can weigh the value of free expression, say, against the cost of possible harms—which is the sort of “balancing” test that American jurisprudence generally prohibits. Greene assumes that our various rights are bound to conflict, and he wants courts to settle these questions not by determining which rights are fundamental but by asking smaller, more factual questions: “Is the government motivated by bigotry? Is it responding to evidence?”

As a result, abortion in America is largely unrestricted in theory but not always readily accessible in practice, mainly because of our endless fight over state-level restrictions. He thinks that we could learn something from Germany, where laws consider the interests both of pregnant women and of fetuses. Abortion is decriminalized there, but generally only in the first trimester of pregnancy, and seekers are required to speak with a counsellor; there are special benefits and rights available to new birth parents as well. Because there is no possibility of a court offering total vindication of the right to choice or the right to life, each side is more willing to live with the compromise.

Greene views the “rights explosion” as an engine of political division, but it is not clear that American politics was significantly less divisive before it or would be less divisive without it. On its own terms, certainly, this explosion has been a grand success. Speech rights, religious rights, gun rights, and privacy rights have all been expanded and defended; it is hard to argue that any previous generation enjoyed broader rights than we enjoy today.

Observing these reversals, one can see that what Greene calls “rightsism” is less a philosophy than a strategy, by which a minority cause can achieve a fuller political victory than might otherwise be possible. Structural and cultural shifts have convinced many on the left that their causes are broadly and increasingly popular, and that strong rights protections have become a political obstacle. But it is rash, especially in a big and insubordinate country like this one, to imagine that appeals to reasonableness and popularity will always serve as a more reliable guide to justice than the language of the Constitution. One lesson from Carol Anderson’s book is that such a reversal would likely come with its own costs and benefits, unequally shared. But it seems possible, too, that some of the fiercest opponents of gun rights may one day find themselves championing unpopular causes of their own, and hoping not to compromise but to win.

Why Did So Many Victorians Try to Speak with the Dead? | The New Yorker

The surging numbers are reminiscent of the late nineteenth century, when somewhere between four million and eleven million people identified as Spiritualists in the United States alone.

A recent spate of histories of the Spiritualist craze and biographies of some of its central characters have attempted to locate the movement’s origins in various cultural, political, and technological aspects of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These accounts vary in both plausibility and persuasiveness, yet all of them are interesting—partly because of what they tell us about the Victorian era, but also because of what they suggest about the resurgence of Spiritualism today.

But most accounts of Spiritualism don’t begin with great men or distant precedents. They start with little women on an exact date: March 31, 1848. On that night, as Emily Midorikawa details in her new book, “Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice” (Counterpoint), two sisters, fourteen-year-old Margaretta Fox and eleven-year-old Catherine, finally convinced some of their neighbors that an unsettling series of knockings and tappings in their home, near the south shore of Lake Ontario, was coming from the spirit world. Soon the whole town of Hydesville, New York, was gripped by the mysterious noises that haunted the Fox family.

According to Midorikawa, the Greeleys were representative of some of the earliest and most enthusiastic adherents of Spiritualism: affluent and progressive mothers and fathers who were desperate to communicate with sons and daughters who had died too young. In the mid-nineteenth century, an estimated twenty to forty per cent of children died before the age of five, and scholars often point to this fact to help account for the appeal of Spiritualism.

The very word for those who could talk with spirits reflected all the new “mediums” through which information could be transmitted; spirit photographs were marketed alongside spirit telegraphs, spirit fingerprints, and spirit typewriters. Inventors such as Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison even tinkered with uncanny radios and spirit telephones, inspired by some of the disembodied voices of their own experiments and curious about the supernatural implications of electromagnetism and other universal energies.

In one of the most publicized attempts to test the claims of Spiritualists, Scientific American offered five thousand dollars in prize money to anyone who could produce psychic phenomena sufficient to convince a committee that consisted of academics from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, psychic experts, and also Harry Houdini, who knew something about illusions and developed a sideline in exposing those which hucksters were trying to pass off as real. Armed with electroscopes and galvanometers, the committee tested all mediums who presented themselves for scrutiny, sometimes attending multiple séances before rendering a verdict.

Houdini prevented Crandon from winning the Scientific American prize, but her fame only grew, and her case later splintered another group of researchers. The American Society for Psychical Research, founded in 1885, a few years after its British equivalent, was devoted to the investigation of spiritual phenomena, which the society considered as worthy of careful study as fossils or electricity.

Even more strikingly, from the perspective of the present day, early mediums offered encounters with the culturally dispossessed as well as with the culturally heralded. Piper, for instance, claimed to channel not only Washington and Luther but also a young Native American girl named Chlorine. And she was not alone in allegedly relaying the posthumous testimony of marginalized people.

Occult practices melded with culturally blurry techniques of meditating and altering consciousness, and the roots of the esotericism that would eventually be known as New Age took hold.

Emma Hardinge Britten, an opera-singing skeptic who set out to discredit the Spiritualists but ended up joining them, became one of the country’s most popular public speakers and helped Abraham Lincoln win reëlection. But they and other Spiritualists faced a cultural backlash almost immediately. The religion scholar Ann Braude’s groundbreaking “Radical Spirits” (Beacon) situates spiritual work as social and political activism, since it gave women the opportunity to speak in public, and as a foundation of the women’s-rights movement, since it demonstrated the equality of the sexes. Such a framing helps explain why Spiritualism became so ridiculed, and why its opponents sought to discredit its female leaders most vigorously.

The scandal crossed the Atlantic faster than any steamship, and Spiritualists around the world reeled. A written confession followed the performance, describing how Kate “was the first to observe that by swishing her fingers she could produce certain noises with her knuckles and joints and that the same effect could be made with the toes,” and that after a great deal of practice the girls mastered making these noises in the dark. “Like most perplexing things when made clear, it is astonishing how easily it is done,” Maggie Fox said. But, the very next year, Fox recanted her recanting, leaving both sides to claim and reject the testimony of the sisters as they saw fit, a contest that was still unresolved when, a few years later, both sisters died poor.

The flaw in most efforts to account for historical iterations of Spiritualism is that they look exclusively to transient features at the expense of more fundamental ones. It is true that today’s Spiritualists have something in common with their Victorian predecessors, situated as they are in another era of rapid technological change and increasing secularization; the Internet and virtual reality are the present moment’s photography and telegraphy, technologies so advanced that they approach the uncanny; then as now, a vast penumbra of proto-spiritualists surround the true believers. No longer persuaded by orthodox religious accounts but also not satisfied with pure materialism, they experiment with psychics, crystals, tarot, and astrological charts, or simply swap stories of the eerie and the unexplained.

App Store Arguments – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

  • The Legal Argument

    • Apple came into the trial with a strong hand rooted in Supreme Court precedent

    • First, while it is possible to define the App Store for iPhones as a distinct aftermarket (see Kodak v. Image Technical Services), appellate courts have significantly narrowed that decision to limit its application to situations where the company selling the product that leads to an aftermarket is only barred from changing the rules after-the-fact to foreclose competition in the aftermarket; if the rules foreclosing competition are consistent, however, then there is no harm, because customers know what they are getting into.

    • Second, Apple also made the case that there is a competitive market for developers.

      • moreover, those platforms have rules that are similar to iOS, including exclusive payment platforms, no-steering provisions, and 30% commissions.

    • The most important case for Apple’s defense, though, is 2004’s Verizon v. Trinko, which established and/or reiterated several important precedents that support Apple’s position, even if Apple were held to be a monopolist.

      • First, a monopolist has a right to monetize its intellectual property

      • Second, a monopolist has no duty to deal with any other company

        • What this means for this case is that Apple has no duty to provide access to those APIs and development tools to companies that do not abide by its terms.

      • Third, the Court stressed that judges should carefully weigh the costs of enforcement with the benefits of an injunction:

        • judges are ill-equipped to understand technical specifics and weigh important trade-offs, particularly absent any egregious anti-competitive behavior

  • The Pragmatic Argument

    • This is where the malware discussion in the trial was relevant;

      • Apple argued that iOS had less of it, while Epic attributed that to iOS’s sandbox architecture that keeps apps isolated from each other.

    • The other malware takeaway, though, is the fact that it massively suppressed the market for third-party applications on Windows.

      • Consumers didn’t suddenly get smart about apps, thanks to the pressure of competition; they simply stopped downloading and installing apps at all.

      • One of the great triumphs of the App Store is the fact that it made consumers feel safe and secure about installing apps, dramatically expanding the market for developers — including Epic.

    • [Apple’s attempt to be the exclusive book store operator on iOS] put Apple’s antitrust conviction in the ebooks case in considerably more dubious light:

      • Apple was trying to shift the industry away from a wholesale model to an agency model, which is the exact sort of model that doesn’t work with the App Store.

      • That the company was offering its own alternative — iBooks — makes it worse, just as the introduction of Apple Music made the application of App Store rules to Spotify particularly problematic.

  • The Duopoly Argument

    • Where does the “made something previously impossible possible” chain of causation and entitlement end?

      • With the phone? With carriers? With TSMC?

      • Obviously Apple believes it ends with the iPhone, but it’s worth exploring why that isn’t simply a wish but a reality;

      • after all, the carriers actually did take a share of all transactions on their networks 14 years ago.

      • The company that changed the status quo was Apple

    • How Apple Creates Leverage

      • The music labels benefitted from a relatively low elasticity of substitution: if I wanted one particular band that wasn’t on the iTunes Music Store, I wouldn’t be easily satisfied by the fact another band happened to be available.

      • The carriers, on the other hand, largely offered the same service: voice, SMS, and data, all of which was interoperable.

      • This increased elasticity of substitution gave Apple an opportunity to pursue a divide-and-conquer strategy: they just needed one carrier.

      • That is when Apple’s user experience advantage and corresponding customer loyalty took over:

        • for the first time ever customers were willing to endure the hassle and expense of changing phone carriers just so they could have access to a specific device.

      • Apple followed the same playbook in country after country:

        • insistence on total control (and over time, significant marketing investments and a guaranteed number of units sold) with a willingness to launch on second or third-place carriers if necessary.

        • Probably the starkest example of the success of this strategy was in Japan.

    • the specifics of what happened between Apple and the carriers is essential to understanding what makes the App Store question so challenging.

    • The App Store market, on the other hand, is a worldwide duopoly, which dramatically reduces the point of leverage for any one app.

      • That is why Apple and Google mostly copy each other’s policies, comfortable in the knowledge that no one app really matters.

  • The Moral Argument

    • What the company no longer admits, though, is that developers did a lot for Apple too.

    • When Apple introduced the iPhone SDK Jobs had analogized the company’s 70/30 split to iTunes, but it was already clear a few months later that the opportunity was far larger than music.

    • This worried longtime Apple executive Phil Schiller;

      • in one of the most striking emails to emerge from the trial, he suggested that Apple might consider voluntarily capping its App Store profit to $1 billion,

      • which was far more than the break-even amount Jobs hoped for at launch.

  • The Anti-Steering Argument

    • The argument that Judge Gonzales Rogers seemed the most interested in pursuing was one that Epic de-emphasized: Apple’s anti-steering provisions which prevent an app from telling a customer that they can go elsewhere to make a purchase.

    • The only way that this analogy makes sense is if Apple believes that it owns every app on the iPhone, or, to be more precise, that the iPhone is the store, and apps in the store can never leave.

    • Judge Gonzales Rogers, meanwhile, is not the only one that finds Apple’s entitlement to apps problematic;

      • the European Commission specifically cited the App Store anti-steering provision in its Statement of Objections about Apple’s approach to competition “in the market for the distribution of music streaming apps through its App Store”.

      • That position of strength is starting to weaken.

  • All of these arguments about the App Store are good ones.

    • Apple has good ones, Epic has good ones, Spotify has good ones, the European Commission has good ones, and I’d like to think I have good ones as well.

    • As the Supreme Court as noted, though, a realm with lots of complexity and lots of good arguments about every single trade-off is one that is extremely poorly suited to judicial oversight.

  • Congress is certainly an option

    • there is a utility sort of argument to be made about the App Store

    • but that comes with massive risks, given the relative frequency of changes in the law relative to changes in technology

    • (the Epic case is being argued under a law passed 121 years ago).