Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Apple mends a few fences

September 19, 2010: 8:27 AM ET

With partners, developers, competitors and maybe some regulatory agencies

"Mending Fence" by Cynara Shelton

One of Apple's (AAPL) weaknesses as a company -- as even Steve Jobs will admit -- is that it isn't a particularly good neighbor. Like its co-founder and CEO, it can be secretive, prickly and quick to take offense. Witness, for example, the 121 pending lawsuits that list Apple as a plaintiff or defendant.

So it's unusual and sort of refreshing to see the company go into fence-mending mode, as it seems to have done over the past few weeks -- settling cases, avoiding litigation, or just doing the right thing.

For example:

  • Google Voice: The move that got the most attention this weekend was Apple's decision to start approving Google (GOOG) Voice apps such as GV Mobile + and GV Connect 14 months after it threw them out of the App Store -- a purge that triggered an FCC probe. Presumably the government will now close its books on the complaint, if it hadn't already.
  • Apple newsstand: The other story getting some buzz is the report on the Bloomberg wire Friday that Apple, having invited newspaper and magazine publishers to create special iPad editions, is finally getting around to building a digital newsstand, similar to its iBook store, to showcase them. Those publishers are not particularly good neighbors themselves, so when we hear that negotiations over how to share revenue and subscriber lists have reached an impasse, it's hard to know who's more at fault.
  • Flash-to-iPhone: The big news two weeks ago was Apple's policy U-turn on cross-platform development tools, reversing a five-month old ban than prohibited apps written in Adobe (ADBE) Flash from entering the App Store. There was speculation at the time that one reason for the change was to render moot an FTC's probe. Apple may not be out of the woods yet, since websites with Flash content still don't work properly on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
  • Antennagate: This was not so much a fence being mended as a gate being closed. But Steve Jobs' decision to publicly address complaints about the iPhone 4's external antenna and offer a free case to anyone who was experiencing a problem did seem to set a new tone for the company. The so-called free Bumper program ends this month.
  • Staff poaching: Apple is one of several companies reported to be in "advanced talks" with the Department of Justice to settle allegations that they colluded to hold down wages by agreeing not to poach each other's employees. The other parties named in the civil antitrust complaint were Google, Adobe, Intel (INTC), Intuit (INTU) and Walt Disney (DIS).

Why now? We can only speculate. We note, however, that Apple's fiscal year ends on Saturday. Not a bad time to clear out some dead wood.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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