UK regulators set to crack down on Apple and Google app stores

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Apple and Google’s mobile platforms have faced a whirlwind of criticism over their respective App Store and operating system rules, and the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) adds to this cacophony of voices. After the result of a survey this year, the CMA concluded that mobile duopoly leads to “less competition and meaningful choice” for customers.

The CMA highlighted a few concerning incidents. Apple doesn’t allow Microsoft’s xCloud game streaming app in the App Store, as does Google’s deals with smartphone makers to include Chrome and other Google apps in exchange for access to Google Play Store and Google Play services.

Digital trends

“Apple and Google have developed a stranglehold on the way we use mobile phones, and we fear this could result in the loss of millions of people across the UK,” said Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, ” most people know that Apple and Google are the big players when it comes to choosing a phone, but it can be easy to forget that they also make all the rules – from determining which apps are available on their app stores make it difficult for us to switch to alternative browsers on our phones.This control can limit innovation and choice, and lead to higher prices, which is not good news for users.

The mobile duopoly is an interesting cycle that is self-perpetuating. Developers can’t choose to launch on hypothetical operating systems that aren’t iOS or Android if they hope to achieve mass appeal, and those hypothetical operating systems cannot follow if they don’t fit. at best, than what iOS and Android currently offer. . This has happened in the past with phone makers trying out Windows Phone, BlackBerry 10, and other smaller operating systems. Even now, Huawei is doing its best to go it alone with HarmonyOS and an alternative App Store, but the company has seen sales decline regardless.

How can we solve this problem?

In its report, the CMA highlights a few potential fixes for sideloading and changing default apps, though it’s worth noting that both are painless affairs on Android at the moment. The AMC also says Apple and Google should allow users to change default settings such as browsers, as well as allow other payment systems.

A more robust measure would be to label Apple and Google as meeting a proposed “strategic market status,” a measure that would subject them to a code of conduct that would prevent them from acting anticompetitively by force of law.

Google Play Store on a Huawei P20 Pro.

“We want the UK to remain a place where all tech companies can thrive, and this study highlights the importance of ensuring mobile app stores are fair and competitive,” said Chris Philp, UK minister. of technology and the digital economy, quoted by the Guardian. “Our new pro-competitive regime will level the playing field between tech giants and smaller companies and prevent abuses that could stifle growth and innovation. We are grateful for the work done by the CMA to date and look forward to the final recommendations.

A basic puzzle

Even though Apple and Google have faced lawsuits from Epic Games and are embroiled in regulatory tussles ranging from South Korea to the United States, it’s worth noting that mobile commentators have encouraged the criticized integration and standardization. here, especially when it comes to Android. Once a confusing Wild West with Google allowing phone makers to install all sorts of competing apps and services that led to a compromised end-user experience, the more or less standardized Android experience is cleaner and more user-friendly. Even things like encouraging and adopting a centralized payment system (although it has benefited Apple and Google) have also brought value to the customer by making it safer to make and manage mobile purchases and subscriptions.

To be clear, allowing things like alternative app stores and sideloading is good for competition, but much of the criticism of today’s mobile ecosystems strays into calling their current approaches inherently wrong rather than necessary. at the time. Just as with failed interventions to get people to give up using browsers or search engines in the name of encouraging competition, it’s unclear what success would look like if users didn’t adopt competing services. in notable numbers.

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