Apple’s duel with Facebook is a new form of big-tech rivalry

LAST WEEKEND Mark Murrell, the founder of Get Maine Lobster, bought an Oculus virtual-reality (VR) headset. It is a plaything, but he quickly thought of business. “I can’t wait until everybody has one,” he says. “If only I could have an ad in one of those.” His business is delivering lobsters, at an average $190 a box, to homes across America. In his fantasy VR world, he would take customers via their headsets out on boats to see the catches, or give them cooking lessons—all while gently nudging them to place orders. Since his business started in 2009, its primary means of reaching new customers has been through ads on Facebook. It is not lost on him that Oculus is also owned by the social-media giant. “I was like ‘wow, watch out!’,” he says. 
As one of the biggest online-advertising platforms, Facebook understands the hidden depths of the digital world like a lobster fisherman knows the topography of the sea floor. But Mark Zuckerberg does not set the rules in all the places where his company lurks. The most lucrative hunting grounds are those controlled by Apple, maker of the iPhone, whose users last year spent on average almost five times as much per person buying stuff on its iOS operating system as those on devices using Android, its (Google-owned) rival. Apple has said that this spring it will upgrade iOS to toughen…
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