The interim report from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that looks at mobile ecosystems has found that Apple and Google exercise a “vice-like grip” on mobile devices.
The CMA has provisionally found that Apple and Google have been able to leverage their market power to create largely self-contained ecosystems. As a result, it is extremely difficult for any other firm to enter and compete meaningfully with a new system.
Discussing the control that Apple and Google have over the mobile industry and end-users, Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “We’re concerned that it’s causing millions of people across the UK to lose out.
“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.”
In the report, the CMA noted that people buying a mobile device essentially enter either Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android ecosystem. “Apple and Google are able to control how online content, such as mobile apps and websites, is provided to users,” it said. “They can also tilt the playing field towards their own services. For example, Apple does not allow any other app store than its own on iPhones and iPads, and its browser Safari comes pre-installed on those. Google’s browser, Chrome, and app store also come pre-installed on most Android devices.”
The report said this leads to less choice, because consumers may miss out on the ability to use web apps, which make use of cloud services.
Looking at app developers, the CMA report found that developers also have to comply with Apple’s and Google’s rules for access to their app stores, which can be overly restrictive. It found that developers are required to accept these terms in order to reach users, which can include paying a 30% commission to Apple and Google.
Although these controls are needed to maintain security and ensure user privacy, the CMA said it was concerned that Apple and Google are making decisions on these grounds that favour their own services and limit meaningful choice, when other approaches are available.
The report made four recommendations to open up the mobile ecosystem and reduce Apple and Google’s control. The first is to make it easier for users to switch between iOS and Android phones when they want to replace their device without losing functionality or data. Second, the CMA wants Apple and Google to make it easier for users to install apps through methods other than the App Store or Play Store. This includes support for web apps on mobile devices.
The third recommendation is that Apple and Google give users a choice of how to pay for in-app purchases, such as game credits or subscriptions, rather than being tied to Apple’s and Google’s payment systems.
The final recommendation is to give users the choice of default browser on their mobile device, rather than being limited to Safari on iOS and Chrome on Android.