why Elon Musk is entertaining the idea of ​​creating an alternative Internet free from Apple and Google

Twitter risque-t-il vraiment de se faire bannir par Google et Apple ?

I really hope it doesn’t come to that, but yeah, if there’s no other choice, I’ll make an alternative phone“. In a tweetElon Musk revived an old Arlesian this weekend: what if the entrepreneur created a third mobile operating system (OS), competing with that of Apple (iOS) and Google (Android), which equip 99% smartphones in the world?

The billionaire entrepreneur – whose fortune shrunk by 100 billion dollars in 2022 because of Tesla’s fall on the stock market linked in part to the takeover of Twitter – responded to a tweet from the very conservative Liz Wheeler, a famous American political commentator. This revived the ultimate threat for any mobile application developer: exclusion from the App Store and the Google Play Store, the application stores of Apple and Google. ” If Apple and Google kick Twitter out of their app store, @ElonMusk should produce his own smartphone. Half the country would be happy to throw away biased and bugged iPhones and Androids. Man sends rockets to Mars, a little nothing smartphone should be easy, right? “, she tweeted.

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A real addiction to Apple and Google

Like all companies that offer mobile applications, Twitter is in fact dependent on Apple and Google, simply to access the market. Two-thirds of Internet users use their mobile to browse the Internet. And even if it is possible to access Twitter via a browser, the vast majority of users prefer to use an application, which guarantees a smoother experience. On iOS as on Android, applications must be downloaded via a store: the App Store on iPhone, the Google Play Store or one of its equivalents on other smartphones.

The “stores” are therefore the gateway to any smartphone application, which places Apple and Google in a de facto duopoly, since all the smartphones on the market run either on Android (78% of smartphones) or on iOS ( 22%). But to have the right to appear in the App Store or the Google Play Store, you must respect the rules set by Apple and Google. Most are technical: ensuring that applications offer a sufficient level of cybersecurity. Others are legal: social media like Twitter must respect the law and have moderation to prevent hate speech and manipulation of information as much as possible. Finally, others are commercial: like highways, Apple and Google charge the toll in the sense that to access the market, applications must accept a commission on all purchases made in-app. Thus, up to 30% of the turnover of each application returns to the pocket of the two giants, which is beginning to pose serious competition problems for regulators in Europe and the United States.

Apple and Google routinely ban apps that they believe violate their terms of service. Most for cybersecurity reasons, but some, like far-right social networks Gab and Parler, because they break the law by inciting hate and failing to moderate content. Hence the accusation brandished by thealternative right American and by all supporters of total freedom of expression (therefore unregulated), according to which Apple and Google would be “biased”.

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Can Elon Musk build an alternative OS?

Elon Musk is one of those despisers, so much so that he had already suggested that he could build an alternative mobile ecosystem… Before rejecting the idea because smartphones would be “terminals of the past”. The reason ? Musk believes that smartphones, tablets or connected watches will be replaced by neural implants, which will establish direct interactions between humans and machines. This is also the goal of his startup Neuralink.

Still, Elon Musk is already in the operating systems business with his other company, Tesla. The electric car giant has developed its own operating system to equip its vehicles. But it is an industrial OS as there are many, which means that it is designed specifically and for a single use in a closed ecosystem.

In theory, it is therefore not impossible for Elon Musk to create a new OS, since he already has experience with Tesla. Except that it is very unlikely in practice: creating a so-called “generalist” operating system, competing with iOS and Android, is infinitely more complex, time-consuming and expensive than building an industrial OS.

“Creating a complete general-purpose operating system would require at least twenty to twenty-five years of major financial investment, and skills that are rare in the world. It’s millions of lines of code. The equivalent of thousands of books that must be written with a story that goes from the first to the last page”, explained Jean-Romain Lhomme, the CEO of the French start-up Hyperpanel, which offers an industrial OS for the ‘Internet of Things.

In addition, to do without Apple and Google, Elon Musk should not only build a generalist OS, but also the entire ecosystem that goes with it, that is to say the application store and the smartphone. Above all, it will have to push application developers to create applications specifically for this new digital environment… However, this is precisely the reason why Microsoft has spectacularly broken its teeth with its Windows Phone and its own mobile OS. : too few applications were developed for it, companies favoring the dominant players -Apple and Google- to reduce their costs. Amazon or Samsung, among others, have also tried, without success, to create their alternative mobile platform. It’s the snake biting its tail: an OS cannot survive without users, but users do not migrate from one digital environment to another without the assurance of finding the same quality and diversity of services there. .. which are not there for lack of users.

This is the famous digital network effect: Apple and Google enjoy such a dominant position that dislodging them through competition alone seems illusory. Only a new technological breakthrough that would replace smartphones seems likely to reshuffle the cards. And that seems to be Elon Musk’s bet in the medium term, he who predicts the end of current terminals, the success of the decentralized Internet, human/machine interactions, and who wishes to transform Twitter into a “universal application” in which he would be possible to communicate, buy, play and have fun. Like a mini-Internet within the Internet, in short.

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Is Twitter really in danger of being banned?

So, if creating an OS seems so difficult, why is Elon Musk waving such a threatens ” ? Already because it is beneficial for him to seize every opportunity to criticize the Apple/Google duopoly. Their dominance is a problem for the entire app developer industry, as illustrated by the highly symbolic Apple v. Epic Games lawsuit. Twitter, like all applications, sees its revenue punctured by around 30% for any in-app purchase. This was not a problem when the social network relied solely on advertising, which weighs 90% of its turnover. But now Elon Musk wants to make Twitter an $8-a-month paid subscription service. Or 2.4 dollars in the pocket of Apple and Google. Elon Musk therefore joins the anti-App Stores slingshot mainly for economic reasons.

Twitter is also one of the few companies that can afford to openly criticize the dominant position of Apple and Google on mobile. Most apps keep quiet because they’re afraid of the consequences if they dare to slap the hand that feeds them. But Twitter is a social media used by 250 million people a day, considered essential for the communication of many governments, organizations and companies – including Apple and Google -, and which is a real player in the democratic debate. In other words, Twitter is too heavy, Apple and Google will think twice before removing the blue bird from their application store.

Elon Musk can therefore criticize them and threaten to directly compete with them, also because the moderation obligations imposed by Apple and Google go against his radical conception of freedom of expression. This is therefore part of his political fight.

Finally, Elon Musk pulls out his claws because Apple and Google can actually sink Twitter if it deteriorates too much. However, the dismissal of more than 80% of the company’s workforce in less than a month, including a large part of the moderators, raises serious questions about the ability of Twitter to operate in a sufficiently secure way for the user, and effectively moderate content.

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Lawmakers in the United States and Europe have already expressed concern. ” The bird will fly respecting our European rules »warned Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for the internal market, in direct response to Elon Musk who trumpeted that “ the bird is released under his direction. And history has shown that Apple and Google are able to ban unmoderated social media with Gab and Parler – the latter has since made cosmetic but sufficient changes to re-enter the App Store.

In other words, being banned from Twitter is a real possibility. This resurfaced in part because Phil Schiller, the head of the App Store at Apple, decided to deactivate his personal Twitter account following the takeover by Elon Musk. Yoel Torh, who led the branch ” trust and security from Twitter before being abruptly fired by Elon Musk in November, also warned the social network about its inability to fulfill the obligations of the two mobile giants.

But so far neither Apple nor Google have indicated they are considering such a drastic measure. Here they are now warned by Elon Musk that, in the event that they embark on this path, they will trigger a real political and economic war.

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