CMA Unveils Investigation into Apple and Google’s Mobile Power

The Competition and Markets Authority reckons Apple and Google “hold all the cards” with interventions needed to give innovators and competitors a fair chance to compete in mobile ecosystems.

The strength of Apple and Google is in the spotlight yet again with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) planning an investigation into their market power.

The CMA announced today (10 June) that it will look at their mobile browsers and Apple’s restrictions on cloud gaming through its app store. In parallel, it is also taking enforcement action against Google in relation to its app store payment practices.

This follows a year-long study of the companies’ mobile ecosystems, the final report of which has been published today.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, comments: “When it comes to how people use mobile phones, Apple and Google hold all the cards. As good as many of their services and products are, their strong grip on mobile ecosystems allows them to shut out competitors, holding back the British tech sector and limiting choice.”

It’s a subject that has been analysed before at eWeek UK. Last year we examined Apple and Google’s “vice-like grip” over mobile phones. That’s worth checking out for more technical details.

Today’s info from the CMA feels very familiar.

The regulator is now “consulting” on making a market investigation reference into mobile browsers and access to cloud gaming on mobile devices.

  • Need more news on Google? Check out ‘CMA Starts Second Investigation into Google’s Adtech Activities’ here

There’s no denying the tech titans’ dominance, as 97% of all mobile web browsing in the UK in 2021 happens on browsers powered by either Apple’s or Google’s browser engine. Apple bans alternatives to its own browser engine on its mobile devices; a “restriction that is unique to Apple”.

The CMA is concerned this severely limits the potential for rival browsers to differentiate themselves from Safari (for example, on features such as speed and functionality) and limits Apple’s incentives to invest in its browser engine.

It notes that this restriction also seriously inhibits the capability of web apps – apps that run on a browser rather than having to be individually downloaded – depriving consumers and businesses of the full benefits of this technology.

  • We’ve been here before. Read about ‘Apple and Google: A “Vice-Like Grip” on the Mobile Market’ here

Mobile devices also typically have either Google’s Chrome or Apple’s Safari pre-installed and set as default at purchase, giving them a “key advantage over other rival browsers”.

Apple and Google both have strong positions in mobile web browsing, with a combined share of supply of around 90% for their browsers.

During its market study, the CMA heard concerns from a number of UK businesses and startups who said that the restrictions in relation to mobile browsers and cloud gaming make it harder for them to innovate and compete in these markets.

In parallel, the CMA is also today launching a competition law investigation into Google’s rules governing apps’ access to listing on its Play Store, in particular regarding conditions Google sets for how users can make in-app payments for certain digital products.

Separately, the CMA has an existing competition law investigation underway in relation to Apple’s app store terms and conditions, which it opened in March 2021.

This story will no doubt keep on running for a while as the consultation on the proposed market investigation reference will close on 22 July.

Antony Peyton
Antony Peyton
Antony Peyton is the Editor of eWeek UK. He has 18 years' journalism and writing experience. His career has taken him to China, Japan and the UK - covering tech, fintech and business. Follow on Twitter @TonyFintech.
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