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Yet another country says Apple, Google have 'vice-like grip' over phones

The UK's competition authority took issue with sideloading, in-app payments, and more.

Published onDecember 14, 2021

Google Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE 2020 displays 2
David Imel / Android Authority
  • A report by the UK’s competition body has detailed the extent of Apple and Google’s control over smartphones.
  • It criticized Apple for not allowing alternative app stores as well as Google for forcing OEMs to preload its apps.
  • It also criticized both companies for not allowing apps to use alternative in-app payments.

Apple and Google have come under scrutiny in various regions over in-app payments and other mobile-related issues. Now, we can add the UK’s competition watchdog to the list of regional authorities that have taken issue with this mobile duopoly.

The Competition Markets Authority (CMA) has issued a provisional report into Apple and Google’s mobile ecosystems, finding that the two companies have a “vice-like grip” over how people use smartphones.

“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,” said the watchdog’s CEO Andrea Coscelli.

The case against Apple and Google

Google Pixel 6 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro Max 3
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

For one, the CMA’s interim report took issue with Apple not allowing alternative app stores. This so-called practice of sideloading apps has been attacked by Apple in 2021. In fact, the firm even went so far as to release a white paper on its website, declaring that the practice would adversely affect security for all iOS users.

The report also took umbrage with Apple blocking game streaming services on iOS, while calling for both platform holders to better support web apps. This comes after Microsoft was initially blocked from bringing an Xbox Cloud Gaming app to iOS, before the firm implemented a web app instead.

Furthermore, the watchdog decried Google’s contracts with manufacturers, which urged phone makers to pre-install Chrome and the Play Store. Finally, the report suggested that consumers are facing higher prices for iPhones, app subscriptions, and in-app purchases than they would normally have to pay in a more competitive market.

So how does the CMA reckon Apple and Google should address these issues? Well, the firm has proposed a variety of actions, with the most notable remedies seen below:

  • Apple and Google need to make it easier for consumers to switch between Android and iOS “without losing functionality or data.”
  • The platform holders need to make it easier to sideload apps.
  • Apps should no longer be forced to use Apple and Google’s payment systems.
  • The two companies need to make it easier for users to choose alternatives to first-party apps (e.g. browsers).

The regulatory body has also opened consultations regarding this interim report and has opened the door for responses to be submitted by February 7, 2022. The final version of the report is scheduled to be published in June 2022.

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