UK regulator investigating Apple, Google ‘duopoly on mobile ecosystems’

UK watchdog the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an in-depth investigation into the dominance of the mobile ecosystems operated by Apple and Google.

It follows the June publication of its Mobile Ecosystem Market Study, which found that the companies “have an effective duopoly… that allows them to exercise a stranglehold over operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices”.

The CMA said 97% of all mobile web browsing in the UK last year occurred using browsers powered by either Apple or Google.

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It said responses to its report revealed substantial support for a deeper investigation into the way the companies dominate the mobile browser market, and how the iPhone maker restricts cloud gaming through the App Store.

Xbox Cloud Gaming, for example, is currently only available on iOS through browsers, whereas cloud gaming on Android devices is supported by the Xbox Game Pass app.

“Computer games are a multi-billion pound industry in the UK, played by millions of people,” the CMA wrote. “There are already more than 800,000 users of cloud gaming services in the UK but restrictions on their distribution on mobile devices could hamper growth in this sector, meaning UK gamers miss out.”

It said browser vendors, web developers, and cloud gaming service providers had all expressed concerns that the dominance of Apple and Google was negatively impacting their businesses, stifling innovation, and causing unnecessary costs.

“We want to make sure that UK consumers get the best new mobile data services, and that UK developers can invest in innovative new apps,” said Sarah Cardell, interim chief executive of the CMA.

“Many UK businesses and web developers tell us they feel that they are being held back by restrictions set by Apple and Google… We plan to investigate whether the concerns we have heard are justified and, if so, identify steps to improve competition and innovation in these sectors.”

A market investigation by the CMA, which is also currently probing Microsoft’s proposed $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, is usually concluded within 18 months.

If it finds that features of a market have an adverse effect on competition, the CMA has the power to impose its own remedies on companies, which can include forcing them to sell parts of their business in order to level the playing field.

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