Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Aaron Pressman Caught JAQing Off About Apple’s Acquisition of Dark Sky

Aaron Pressman, in an article for Fortune that can’t help but ask the question “should Apple be allowed to kill one of Android’s best weather apps?” (Fortune paywalls articles shortly after they are published, but you can find a mirror on the Internet Archive):

The killing of the Android app brought complaints from its fans and also criticism from antitrust experts who said the move, along with the decision to cut off licensing of Dark Sky’s data, is an example of Apple eliminating competition among weather apps.

“Ugh,” was the first reaction from Stanford University law professor Mark Lemley, a noted antitrust scholar who has studied how large tech firms concentrate their power by buying up innovative startups.

“It’s worth asking whether there is any reason we should allow this merger,” Lemley adds. “True, it’s not the most important app in the world, but it seems to make consumers unambiguously worse off.”

Andrew Gavil, a Howard University law professor who has also worked for the Federal Trade Commission, adds, “Given what they’ve said they will do, it’s obviously anticompetitive.” Cutting off the Android app could be seen as a play to make iOS preferable to consumers, at least for weather app fans, he says. And cutting off access to the data licensing makes it harder for new weather apps to launch.

Acquisitions often leave fewer choices in the marketplace, and Apple’s purchase of Dark Sky is no different in that respect. What makes this acquisition so disruptive is that Dark Sky is not simply an app — it is a full weather forecasting API used by dozens of other well-known apps and big organizations. And because the cross-platform app and Dark Sky’s API are being discontinued in varying stages over the next couple of years, users and developers are each going to have to find ways to replace it.

There’s no way around it: that means a lot of work for developers, and that means some apps may no longer be available. That sucks for users of those apps.

But it is not as though Dark Sky is the only weather API around. Dark Sky is clever about predicting near-future precipitation, but it’s not nearly as accurate for forecasting as data supplied by government agencies or private competitors. It simply isn’t the case that Apple is buying the market for weather APIs or apps.

By the way, how did Pressman react to previous acquisitions? Did he ask whether Google should be allowed to buy FitBit? He did not. Did he protest T-Mobile’s purchase of Sprint? Nope. Even in the Dark Sky piece, he references other acquisitions that he doesn’t seem to find quite as problematic:

Top tech companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook have been vacuuming up small app developers for many years, largely without much scrutiny beyond complaints from fans of the acquired software. Apps are often shut down, and features from the apps are sometimes integrated into the acquirer’s existing products. Apple bought a music streaming app called Swell in 2014, shuttered its app, and added features into its own Apple Music service, for example. Meanwhile, Microsoft plans to shut down acquired to-do list app Wunderlist later this year after buying it in 2015 and then creating its own to-do app.

For what it’s worth, Swell was a podcast client, not a music streaming app. But Pressman does not make the case in this piece that either of these apps, nor any others, should be kept running by the acquiring party.

At any rate, as a user of many apps that have been acquired, I prefer being given a hard deadline for when an app or service will be shut down, rather than the empty promise that it will stick around. We all know that, one day, it will disappear; better to rip the bandage off now than later.