David Heinemeier Hansson

August 11, 2021

Too many fights on too many fronts

Compared to its big tech compatriots, Apple has only recently reached Grand Scrutiny Station. The place where everything you do is met first with skepticism and scrutiny – by an influential segment of the masses and the media – more so than courtesy or curiosity. That's undoubtedly a foreign place for Apple, after so many years of unadulterated admiration and delight. They're clearly still getting acquainted with the new circumstances.

Consider their case against Corellium. Apple had tried to bully Corellium out of offering their virtualized iPhones in the cloud for security testers and journalists, using the despised DMCA take-down route. It's usually an effective tactic, especially coming from someone like Apple!

Apple can lay legal siege for longer than most opponents can stay solvent. Them be the spoils of a trillion-dollar market cap. The merits of a case are only of secondary concern to whether the target can afford to fight the siege. Most can't.

But Corellium didn't back down despite facing such a crushing power and capital imbalance. They stuck to their arguments, and told Apple to bring it on. So Apple... didn't. The bullshit DCMA lawsuit just got dropped. Not settled, dropped.

Maybe the particulars of this case would always have led Apple to fold. Like with climate change, it's hard to say definitively whether a given flood or fire was directly provoked, but we can say with certainty that there will be more and they'll be worse. And yet, I'm going to go out on a limb and say Apple dropped this case because their PR train is now solidly stuck at Grand Scrutiny Station, and Apple didn't need this case to weigh them down further.

Apple has been taking on too many fights on too many fronts.

Yes, they still have all the financial capital needed to fight all of them at once (and many more, should they so desire!), but they don't have the political or reputational capital to do so. They'll run out of critical good-will with groups that matter far sooner than they'll run the treasury dry.

Ironically, I think the prudence Apple is discovering – now they're realizing that there are other constraints on their power than just money – might well make the company stronger long term.

Kinda like how Microsoft has come roaring back to sit pretty amongst the two-trillion dollar crowd, without so obviously trying to dominate everyone and their air supply. That prudence came in part out of the post-2000 slump in confidence following the DOJ case that embarrassed Gates in depositions and petrified the company of running afoul again.

A reminder of your own corporate mortality is good for business. You can't fight all the world all the time. Apple will be better after this insight has sunk in.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.