United States vs. Apple is pure nerd rage

United States v. Apple is a lawsuit written for the general public, an 88-page press release designed to be read during cable news programs.

Functionally speaking, a lawsuit is a communication between lawyers and a judge. Because it is a specialized message for a specialized audience, it can become very technical and jargonistic – this is especially the case when dealing with niche areas of law such as antitrust or complex areas of law such as technology. Tech lawsuits are often unclear even to techies and are interspersed with bizarre software terminology that is virtually meaningless outside of court. (For example, antitrust law likes “middleware,” and copyright law likes “technological protections.”)

Although the dreaded “middleware” does occur United States vs. Apple, you can barely tell it was written by lawyers. You just have to compare it with the 1998 complaint United States v. Microsoft to see what I mean. The Apple lawsuit even starts off like it’s trying to be a magazine article:

In 2010, a top Apple executive emailed Apple’s then-CEO about an advertisement for the new Kindle e-reader. The ad started with a woman using her iPhone to buy and read books in the Kindle app. She then switches to an Android smartphone and continues reading her books using the same Kindle app. The director wrote to Jobs: one “The message that should not be missed is that you can easily switch from iPhone to Android. Not fun to watch.” Jobs was clear in his answer: Apple would “force” developers to use its payment system to lock both developers and users into its platform. For many years, Apple has repeatedly responded to threats like these by making it harder or more expensive for its users and developers to leave rather than making it more attractive for them to stay.

A scene! Characters! The invocation of Steve Jobs himself! Personally, I think this paragraph could use some heavy editing before publishing, but hey, it should be a legal case, not narrative non-fiction.

In fact, this opening paragraph isn’t even numbered: in legal documents like this, each paragraph is usually numbered. It is instead part of a strange literary curtain placed just before the table of contents. That’s not against the rules – mind you United States v Google (submitted 2023) has a single, short intro paragraph outside the numbered section – but US v Apple starts up two whole pages before getting into accusations.

Compare that to the opening paragraph of the complaint in the DOJ’s blockbuster 1998 antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft (which, of course, is properly labeled as paragraph 1):

1. This is an action under Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act to restrain anticompetitive conduct by Defendant Microsoft Corporation (“Microsoft”), the world’s largest supplier of computer software for personal computers (“PCs”) and remedy the consequences of its past wrongful conduct.

It’s almost like the lawyers US v Microsoft wrote a paper asking a judge to apply the Sherman Antitrust Act to the personal computer market! What a nap!

Meanwhile, though US v Apple There’s a lawsuit somewhere in its sheer volume, but for the most part it’s a fairly readable litany of all the nasty things Apple has personally done to me over the years. Are my friends and loved ones having green drinks? Can’t buy Kindle books in the Amazon app? The way I can’t change the NFC tap to do anything other than open Apple Wallet? The laggy badness of any non-Apple smartwatch when paired with the iPhone? The DOJ knows. The DOJ is concerned. I feel seen.

There are even a few tantalizing paragraphs in which the DOJ compares the need to regularly update AAA video game titles to the arduous process of App Store review and then concludes that “Apple’s behavior made cloud streaming apps so unattractive to users that no some developer designed one for The iPhone.” At no point does the DOJ claim that Apple is the reason I can’t play AAA games on my iPhone… but it isn’t not say that. Does Apple stand between me and my video games??? I wonder, unconsciously searching for my pitchfork.

From cloud streaming games to CarPlay, the DOJ complaint seeks to bring in the burning grievances of all types of nerds and beyond. All that’s missing is a rant about how ever-increasing screen sizes are victimizing me, a person with small hands. (At Thursday’s press conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland made no mention of how Sarah Jeong would like to see the SE return to its 2016 size.)

You could almost forget that this is a lawsuit and not just the collected observations of a single highly motivated poster The edge comments section – until you get to page 57. There, the document suddenly changes voice, eventually turning into a formal communication to a judge. “Cellular telephones,” the complaint reads primitively, “are portable devices that enable communication via radio frequencies rather than landline telephones.”

It’s fun to deal with the legal distillation of nerd rage at the line level, but there’s also an overarching story here that the DOJ is trying to push, one with potentially enormous consequences. Both at Thursday’s press conference and in the complaint, the Justice Department made great efforts to call back United States v. Microsoft. Of course it is clear why. It’s not just that it was the last truly big W that the FBI took home in the world of tech antitrust – in fact, the current battle over iOS’s closed garden looks a lot like the browser wars of old that sparked it for Microsoft’s antitrust lawsuit. case!

But while these specific agreements are relevant to a judge, they are not so much to the general public. What the DOJ wants with this recall is bigger and more important. It wants to bring these two cases together in popular consciousness and thereby define itself and its role in history. “When Apple began developing consumer mobile devices, it did so against the backdrop of United States v. Microsoftwhich created new opportunities for innovation in areas that would become critical to the success of Apple’s consumer devices and the company itself,” the complaint said.

The Justice Department wants the public to view Apple’s success as something brought to them in part by an antitrust division that acts like a recurring ban hammer on a 20-year timer. DOJ is a benevolent bushranger, providing controlled burns to the United States economy. Microsoft had to be crushed in the beginning for Apple to flourish; Now Apple must be crushed to bring about the next technological era. (The incessant whining about “super apps” in the complaint may have to do with someone at DOJ desperately trying to get Elon Musk’s extremely fickle attention.)

Let’s just say we’re not exactly in a place where we can A/B test antitrust law

Of course, the long saga of the Microsoft antitrust actions (especially if you count the trailing tail of the appeals case) coincided with many things: the creation of Google, the dotcom crash, the creation of both Tencent and Baidu, the “election” of George W. Bush, September 11, the war in Iraq. The United States is no longer in the same position it once was: in diplomacy, war, or technology. And the essential dynamics of the US tech sector, and not just the names of the key players involved, look very different than they did ten years ago – let alone twenty years ago. United States v. Microsoft has almost certainly had a substantial effect on the tech industry and society as a whole, let’s just say we’re not exactly in a place where we can test antitrust antitrust. DOJ wants to write a story about its role in the technology ecosystem and the American economy, but whether that story is actually true remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the opening salvo in the battle against one of America’s favorite corporations is off to a great start, in no small part due to an unusual degree of legal insight into the human psyche. The complaint addresses technology enthusiasts directly rather than speaking over them and to a federal judge. The more involved you are in the Apple ecosystem, the more opportunities you have to get annoyed with Apple. And so are those hundreds of little annoyances, the DOJ says Apple’s fault, not yours. It is an extremely tempting invitation to join them. And no one can deliver the hate as loudly as the nerds – and sometimes that’s because the nerds have a point.

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