Apple and Google duopoly limits competition and choice – firms exercising a ‘vice-like grip’ over mobile devices

Earlier this year, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched a probe over concerns that Apple and Google have too much control over operating systems (iOS and Android), app stores (App Store and Play Store), and web browsers (Safari and Chrome) that together form their ‘ecosystems’.

When someone buys a mobile device, they essentially enter either Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android ecosystem. As a result, Apple and Google are able to control how online content, such as mobile apps and websites, is provided to users.

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 CMA is concerned that this is leading to less competition and meaningful choice for customers. People also appear to be missing out on the full benefit of innovative new products and services – such as so-called ‘web apps’ and new ways to play games through cloud services on iOS devices.

The CMA is also concerned that people could be facing higher prices than they would in a more competitive market, including for Apple phones, app subscriptions and purchases made within apps.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA said: “Apple and Google have developed a vice-like grip over how we use mobile phones and 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. Any intervention must tackle the firms’ substantial market power across the key areas of operating systems, app stores and browsers. We think that the best way to do this is through the Digital Markets Unit when it receives powers from government.”

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