Google and Apple: Mobile operating systems and apps 'duopoly' in the spotlight

The UK competition regulator is studying Google's and Apple's mobile ecosystems to inform its new Digital Markets Unit.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is eyeing Apple's and Google's "effective duopoly" over concerns that the smartphone and mobile app markets could be resulting in consumers losing out.

The regulator is concerned that iOS and Android, combined with Apple's App Store and Google Play, could be harming consumers in a wide range of ways, primarily by stifling competition in digital markets through their outsized control over these gateways. 

The CMA is not just concerned about apps but all the IoT devices in consumers' homes that are controlled by smartphones, from TVs to smart speakers. 

"Apple and Google control the major gateways through which people download apps or browse the web on their mobiles – whether they want to shop, play games, stream music or watch TV," Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA said.  

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"We're looking into whether this could be creating problems for consumers and the businesses that want to reach people through their phones."

"Our ongoing work into big tech has already uncovered some worrying trends and we know consumers and businesses could be harmed if they go unchecked. That's why we're pressing on with launching this study now, while we are setting up the new Digital Markets Unit, so we can hit the ground running by using the results of this work to shape future plans."

Google said in a statement: "Android provides people with more choice than any other mobile platform in deciding which apps they use, and enables thousands of developers and manufacturers to build successful businesses. We welcome the CMA's efforts to understand the details and differences between platforms before designing new rules."

The CMA established the Digital Markets Unit (DMU) in April as part of a plan to strengthen is regulatory powers over online platforms like Facebook and Google.  

The DMU was depicted by the CMA as "a tough new regulator to help make sure tech giants such as Facebook and Google cannot exploit their market dominance to crowd out competition and stifle innovation."

The CMA is also eyeing Apple's Safari browser, which is dominant on iPhones, and Google Chrome, which is dominant on Android phones.

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At the moment, the CMA's probe of Apple and Google is characterized as a "study", meant to inform the UK's new "pro-competition regulatory regime" through the DMU. 

The CMA recently launched an investigation into Apple's App Store rules for developers over the 30% commission it takes on in-app sales with the aim of finding out whether Apple imposes unfair or anti-competitive terms on developers using the App Store, and whether this results in end users having less choice or paying higher prices for apps and add-ons. Apple has not responded to a request for comment.

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