Friday, April 05, 2024

Apple antitrust: Dreaming of freedom for photos

In early 2024 the American DOJ sued Apple for an illegal monopoly over the smartphone market. I agree with the thrust of the suit. Apple may not have a conventional monopoly, but for a customer like me switching costs are high. The data lock is strong. Apple feels like a de facto monopoly.

I don't know how the suit will evolve over the next 5-10 years of courtroom work. Somewhere along the line I hope that it produces more competition within the Apple ecosystem. In particular it would be rather nice if the courts decide that Apple uses Photos lock-in as a part of its monopoly.

I'm not betting on this happening though. Very few people seem to care about images that are more than a week old and almost nobody does any photo organization or annotation. Apple's Photos products have been deprecating annotations since iPhoto quietly dropped text descriptions of named photo albums. The current version of Photos.mac doesn't even support searches on folder names and Photos.ios can't view or change photo titles seen in Photos.mac

But ... let's say a miracle occurs. Here are two ways that Apple could free photo management from their iron control and provide options for the tiny sliver of the Apple base that cares.

  1. Apple could define an interchange format for digital photo collections. Aperture Exporter showed the way. It's not that hard --  original image, high res archival version, edited version, XMP metadata, folder/album structures, edit directions if possible. All file based and the collection is browsable in a web browser and well documented. Other vendors can import from it.
  2. Make PhotoKit API the only way for Photos to interact with iCloud and make it entirely public. (Current PhotoKit is very limited and the most interesting parts are not public.) A vendor could then greatly extend or replace Photos.mac. I'd pay in blood.
None of this will ever happen.

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