Apple and Google exercise “vice-like” grip over mobile phones, UK regulator warns

An interim Competition and Markets Authority report found Apple and Google exercise "a vice-like grip over mobile devices", with more than 99% of all smartphones sold in the UK running either iOS or Android.

Apple and Google exercise “vice-like” grip over mobile phones, UK regulator warns
Photograph: Sherise VD on Unsplash.

The regulator said it has "provisionally found that Apple and Google have been able to leverage their market power to create largely self-contained ecosystems" following a complaint by Epic Games, noting: "As a result, it is extremely difficult for any other firm to enter and compete meaningfully with a new system."

“The CMA is concerned that this is leading to less competition and meaningful choice for customers,” it said in a statement. “People also appear to be missing out on the full benefit of innovative new products and services - such as so-called ‘web apps’ and new ways to play games through cloud services on iOS devices.

“The CMA is also concerned that people could be facing higher prices than they would in a more competitive market, including for Apple phones, app subscriptions and purchases made within apps.”

The findings are the fruits of an investigation launched by the regulator over fears that the two tech giants are exercising too much power over their relative ecosystems. The probe was one of several regulatory investigations taking place across the world amidst rising concern over the dominance of tech giants.

“Apple and Google have developed a vice-like grip over how we use mobile phones and we’re concerned that it’s causing millions of people across the UK to lose out,” said CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli.

“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.

“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 the government.”

Apple, however, denied claims of market dominance and promised cooperation with regulatory authorities.

“Apple believes in thriving and dynamic markets where innovation can flourish,” a spokesperson said. “We face intense competition in every segment in which we operate, and our North Star is always the trust of our users. We will continue to create new opportunities for developers while protecting our user’s privacy and security.”

“Our rules and guidelines are constantly evolving, and we have made many recent changes that benefit developers and consumers alike. We will continue to engage constructively with the UK Competition and Markets Authority as their work on this study progresses.”

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