Apple becomes the latest tech giant under siege.
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Apple becomes the latest tech giant under siege.

To understand how much the US government’s new lawsuit strikes at the heart of the identity Apple has forged for itself, let’s first consider the firm’s fanbase.

Apple has a unique position as a tech brand, and is regarded with enormous affection by those who like it.

I’ve sat through a lot of Apple events in my time, both virtually and in person, and one thing that always makes us journalists raise an eyebrow is the whooping and cheering from the audience every time a new feature, no matter how small or incremental, is announced.

When a new hardware product goes on sale, Apple employees form a guard of honour outside stores and applaud its first buyers – some of whom will have camped outside for hours in advance, and spent thousands of dollars (who else could get away with charging $3,500/£3,499, for a VR headset?).

People get tattoos of Apple’s distinctive fruit logo. Windows, Google and ChatGPT symbols appear less popular.

“Apple is like a strange drug that you just can’t quite get enough of,” wrote Leander Kahney in his 2006 book The Cult of Mac.

It is this “strange drug” or “magical experience”, as Apple put it in a statement on Thursday, which is now under fire.

So far, Apple’s ethos is a wildly successful business model. As I write, the firm is worth $2.6 trillion.

Analysis firm CCS Insight estimates that 72% of smartphone handsets bought in North America alone in the last three months of 2023 were iPhones. Samsung took 25%, leaving just 3% for everybody else in the handset business.

One of Apple’s big selling points is its focus on privacy and security. But the question is whether it achieves this by shutting out the competition.

The tech giant has engineered an illegal monopoly in smartphones, according to the sweeping US Department of Justice lawsuit filed on Thursday.

Apple routinely blocks web trackers – an irritation for web users but also an important revenue generator for other digital businesses.

It also operates a “walled garden”. This means all Apple products work seamlessly together, and every app, payment method and operating system update is vetted and approved by the tech giant. It is, effectively, a closed ecosystem and that keeps it secure.

Developers fume that they have to pay to get in, and also have to follow Apple’s strict rules: but Apple says in return they get access to an enormous marketplace of potential customers.

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