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Apple, Google Maintain ‘Vice-Like Grip’ on Consumers Says UK Competition Regulator

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Apple and Google have created a duopoly over mobile devices and are limiting competition and choice because of their “vice-like grip” on the market, the UK’s competition watchdog has said.

An interim report published by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it had concerns over Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems, their domination of the phone and tablet market and therefore the ability to control the apps and services users can access.

This creation of their own self-contained ecosystems — Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android — has resulted in them being able to “tilt the playing field towards their own services,” the CMA said today, warning that this could lead to higher prices.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA referred to the “vice-like grip” that Apple and Google have over mobile devices: “Most people know that Apple and Google are the main players when it comes to choosing a phone. But it can be easy to forget that they set all the rules too — from determining which apps are available on their app stores, to making it difficult for us to switch to alternative browsers on our phones.”

“This control can limit innovation and choice, and lead to higher prices — none of which is good news for users,” Coscelli continued. “Any intervention must tackle the firms’ substantial market power across the key areas of operating systems, app stores and browsers. We think that the best way to do this is through the Digital Markets Unit when it receives powers from government.”

The report sets out a range of actions that could be taken to address these issues, including:

  • Making it easier for users to switch between iOS and Android phones when they want to replace their device without losing functionality or data.
  • Making it easier to install apps through methods other than the App Store or Play Store, including so-called “web apps.”
  • Enabling all apps to give users a choice of how they pay in-app for things like game credits or subscriptions, rather than being tied to Apple’s and Google’s payment systems.
  • Making it easier for users to choose alternatives to Apple and Google for services like browsers, in particular by making sure they can easily set which browser they have as default

The CMA is consulting on its initial findings and welcomes official responses from both companies by February 7, 2022. It will be continuing with the second half of the study and expects to issue a final report in June 2022.

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