The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is consulting on the launch of a market investigation into Apple and Google’s market power in 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. The study found that Apple and Google have an effective duopoly on mobile ecosystems that allows them to exercise a stranglehold over these markets, which include operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices.
Without interventions, both companies are likely to maintain, and even strengthen, their grip over the sector, further restricting competition and limiting incentives for innovators.
While the report identified a range of potential interventions across these ecosystems, the CMA has looked at where it can take immediate targeted action to tackle these problems using its current powers. As a result, the CMA is now consulting on making a market investigation reference into mobile browsers and access to cloud gaming on mobile devices.
Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said:
- 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.
- We all rely on browsers to use the internet on our phones, and the engines that make them work have a huge bearing on what we can see and do. Right now, choice in this space is severely limited and that has real impacts – preventing innovation and reducing competition from web apps. We need to give innovative tech firms, many of which are ambitious start-ups, a fair chance to compete.
- We have always been clear that we will maximise the use of our current tools while we await legislation for the new digital regime. Today’s announcements – alongside the 8 cases currently open against major players in the tech industry, ranging from tackling fake reviews to addressing problems in online advertising – are proof of that in action.
Browsers are powered by an ‘engine,’ which is fundamental to browser performance. 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.
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 innovative technology. 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.
Apple has also blocked the emergence of cloud gaming services on its App Store. Like web apps, cloud gaming services are a developing innovation, providing mobile access to high-quality games that can be streamed rather than individually downloaded. Gaming apps are a key source of revenue for Apple and cloud gaming could pose a real threat to Apple’s strong position in app distribution. By preventing this sector from growing, Apple risks causing mobile users to miss out on the full benefits of cloud gaming.
During its market study, the CMA heard concerns from a number of UK businesses and start-ups 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.
The proposed market investigation will further assess the competition concerns identified to date in both areas and decide what, if any, action is appropriate. This could include making legally binding orders requiring changes to be made to Apple’s and Google’s practices.
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.