Apple’s walled garden is a nice place to be if you want a no-fuss experience with technology. But the bushy greens and red roses don’t necessarily indicate you’re getting the most out of the device in your hand. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), a governmental entity, has launched an investigation into Apple’s—and Google’s—duopoly in the mobile space. The entity will look at how Apple’s restrictions and sheer presence have hindered the growth of industries from web development to cloud gaming.
The CMA announced its investigation in a press release, citing that “97% of all mobile web browsing in the UK in 2021 happens on browsers powered by either Apple’s or Google’s browser engine, so any restrictions on these engines can have a major impact on users’ experiences.”
The CMA included some preliminary findings to outline where it plans to sniff around. Namely, there’s mention of “substantial support for a fuller investigation” into Apple’s practices from browser vendors competing with mobile Safari, web developers, and cloud gaming service providers.
For example, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, one of the more popular cloud gaming services due to its vast library, is unavailable in the Apple App Store. It’s only playable through the Safari browser, which the CMA argues is the kind of practice that’s “harming” the cloud gaming industry.
Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass never made it to iOS when it launched a few years ago. Microsoft told the press at the time:
Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. And it consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content.”
Cloud gaming has taken off on PCs and Google’s varying platforms (despite Stadia taking a nosedive!). There are now various excellent services, including Nvidia GeForce Now and Amazon Luna, which is also launched through the browser on mobile devices. But as a casual player of cloud-based gaming, browser-based mobile gaming does not feel natural to the platform it’s running on, even when it’s on the more-permissive Android operating system.
Web developers have also complained that Apple’s “underinvestment” in its browser technology has led to “added costs and frustration” as devs struggle to work around bugs, some even choosing to make unnecessary app-based solutions instead. “Ultimately, these restrictions limit choice and may make it more difficult to bring innovative new apps to the hands of UK consumers.”
The hammer doesn’t seem like it’s coming down as hard on Google in this press release, though it’s included alongside mentions of anti-competitive practices. “Ultimately, these restrictions limit choice and may make it more difficult to bring innovative new apps to the hands of UK consumers,” writes the CMA. But pay attention to this concluding point:
At the same time, Apple and Google have argued that restrictions are needed to protect users. The CMA’s market investigation will consider these concerns and consider whether new rules are needed to drive better outcomes.
It’s easy to look at this investigation and see another regulatory body vilifying Apple’s and Google’s practices. But the CMA makes a good point that tech behemoths have to consider how to balance the needs of their users with every new feature addition—even if it means shaving off some revenue. There has to be a way to protect user privacy while also letting them play cloud games or avoid downloading a bunch of apps for simple tasks.