Apple's walled garden

Just how stupid are consumers?

So begins today's Financial Times editorial about the looming clash between Apple and various European countries over Apple's right to build a so-called "walled garden" around iTunes.

Following in the august footsteps of the French assembly, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian legislators are now taking on Apple over the interoperability of the iTunes store. They believe that consumers should have the right to use any non iPod hardware device to download songs from iTunes.

Today's FT editorial argues that consumers are actually a lot less stupid than the French or Scandinavian states would have us believe. The FT is right. If consumers choose, they can simply ignore iTunes altogether and go to Napster or Rhapsody or Yahoo Music. There really is no reason why iTunes which, after all, is not a public utility, has any responsibility to develop an open standard for the online music consumer.

But this clash between European countries and Apple Computer is not really about the intelligence of consumers. Instead, it reflects the volatility and fractiousness of a hyperpolar world in which European states and multinational corporations now compete as relative equals. The original French assembly's commitment to open up iTunes was an act of assertive nationalism. It was the French state's response to their increasingly marginal role in the borderless online realm.

The really interesting question is who is the David and who is the Goliath in this looming struggle between Apple and the countries of Scandinavia. Steve Jobs would have us believe that Apple is the minnow here. But I'm not so sure. After all, who has more economic power and cultural relevance in today's world -- Norway or Apple?