Tuesday 15 June 2021 11:37 am

Apple and Google under scrutiny from regulator over smartphone dominance

Apple and Google are facing an investigation by UK competition authorities over concerns their dominance in the smartphone market is harming consumers.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) today said it will examine whether the companies’ “effective duopoly” over the supply of operating systems, app stores and web browsers should be curbed.

The market study will focus on so-called mobile ecosystems, which refer to the gateways through which consumers can access a variety of products, content and services, such as music, TV and video streaming, as well as fitness tracking, shopping and banking.

For example, Apple and Google dominate operating systems through iOS and Android respectively. The app market is largely controlled by the App Store and Play Store, while Safari and Chrome are among the most popular browsers.

The regulator will also examine other tech and devices such as smart speakers, smart watches, home security and mobile-controlled lighting.

The CMA will examine whether the two firms’ dominant positions are stifling competition in digital markets — something it said could lead to reduced innovation and higher prices.

It will also look at any effects of their power on other businesses, such as app developers, which rely on Apple and Google to market their products to consumers via smartphones.

Google said its Android app system generated £2.8bn in revenue for app developers last year and supported 240,000 jobs across the UK.

The CMA has 12 months to conclude the study, which could lead to recommendations to government or other bodies.

“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,” said CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli.

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

The intervention is the latest move by the competition watchdog as it gears up to take on new powers as the UK’s first internet regulator.

It is already investigating Apple’s app store and Google’s plans to remove browser cookies. Earlier this month it launched a probe into Facebook over alleged monopolistic behaviour in its use of advertising data.

A Google spokesperson said: “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.”

Apple declined to comment.