Apple and Google’s “effective duopoly on mobile ecosystems” is officially under investigation by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority.
The CMA announced that it is launching a full probe after a consultancy period that found that the platform holders’ dominance “allows them to exercise a stranglehold over operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices.“
The consultation also found that there is “substantial support for a fuller investigation into the way that Apple and Google dominate the mobile browser market and how Apple restricts cloud gaming through its App Store,” the CMA said.
The CMA investigation is expected to take 18 months, and if it decides Apple and Google are behaving in a way that harms competition, it can impose it own rules on the companies as well as make recommendations to other bodies, regulators or the government if legislation is required.
“Many UK businesses and web developers tell us they feel that they are being held back by restrictions set by Apple and Google,” said interim CMA chief executive Sarah Cardell. “We plan to investigate whether the concerns we have heard are justified and, if so, identify steps to improve competition and innovation in these sectors.”
Apple and Google filed responses and Microsoft and Meta also submitted lengthy documents responding to the claims. Microsoft’s statement is particularly spicy: “Microsoft considers that Apple has used its control over native app distribution through the App Store to block the emergence of cloud gaming apps,” it reads.
“As the CMA has rightly identified, Apple does so because cloud gaming offers an alternative method of game discovery and distribution, such that it poses a threat to Apple’s position in native app distribution and its related revenue streams.”
Meta, meanwhile, welcomed the probe and urged the CMA to expand the remit of the investigation to include Apple’s ATT policies: “ATT is causing significant harm to consumers and competition – while benefiting Apple,” it states.
Later, Meta’s statement reads: “Expanding the MIR’s [market investigation reference] scope to include ATT would ensure that the investigation into, and any remedies imposed to address, Apple’s restrictions on cloud gaming and web browsers are effective in combating Apple’s strategy of locking consumers into the iOS ecosystem. Investigating and remedying ATT will also enhance the efficacy of the CMA’s separate investigation into Apple’s App Store practices.”
Apple’s response naturally denies wrongdoing. “Apple does not prevent cloud gaming apps from appearing on the App Store, nor is it trying to block the emergence of cloud gaming apps,” it says. “On the contrary, Apple has worked with developers specifically to allow them to offer cloud gaming apps, whilst maintaining adequate protection for consumers.”
Google, meanwhile, welcomed the investigation while also turning up the heat on Apple: “The CMA’s primary concerns in relation to mobile browser and cloud gaming competition appear to stem from Apple’s ban on alternative browser engines on iOS and its App Store restrictions on cloud gaming. These issues do not arise on Android,” it says.