The five iPhone changes Apple might have to make if the DOJ has its way

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The Core

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Well, it finally happened. After years of speculation and months of gathering rumors, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has slapped Apple with its blockbuster antitrust lawsuit, in what is quickly shaping up to be the legal tech battle of the century. 

Not without its early critics, the suit at first glance appears to be wishy-washy in places, and also at times far-reaching. At its heart, the suit claims Apple locks its customers in, and locks its competitors out of its iPhone ecosystem with its watertight business model. According to the suit Apple “exercises its monopoly power to extract more money from consumers, developers, content creators, artists, publishers, small businesses, and merchants, among others.” 

But what specifically does the DOJ want Apple to change about its iPhone? Handily, the suit highlights five specific things it says Apple has used to maintain its monopoly in the U.S., and as such would like to see shifted. Each has its own varying degrees of merit, and some have even been addressed by Apple already, highlighting the suit’s complicated nature. 

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The Core - The DOJ's objections

Suppression of super apps — Super apps are not actually that popular in the U.S. and Europe, hence why you might not have even heard the term. First coined to describe China’s massive WeChat platform, super-apps are mobile or web applications that offer multiple services under one roof — usually including payments and instant messaging, alongside other features. Aside from WeChat, there’s Alipay, Lark, Gojek, and more. Notably, Elon Musk has also expressed a desire to turn X (formerly Twitter) into an app that does everything. Super apps like those mentioned are available to download on iPhone, however until very recently their utility was limited. Per the lawsuit, it is alleged that Apple “required apps in the United States to display mini-programs using a flat, text-only list of mini programs” rather than as easily navigable tiles or icons. However, in January Apple announced new options for “apps that provide access to mini-apps and games,” noting that “apps will also be able to provide enhanced discovery opportunities for streaming games, mini-apps, mini-games, chatbots, and plug-ins that are found within their apps,” and that these apps will be able to offer in-app purchases to offer paid digital content and services for the first time. The lawsuit doesn’t seem to account for this change.

Apple's cloud streaming game apps policy  — The lawsuit highlights Apple’s rules against apps like Xbox Cloud Gaming, which have previously precluded apps like NVIDIA’s GeForce Now from offering a library of streamed gaming content. Instead, Apple has insisted each game offered by any such service should be an individual app available for download on the App Store, just like its own service, Apple Arcade. In the same breath as its super-apps change, Apple also confirmed that “developers can now submit a single app with the capability to stream all of the games offered in their catalog” on January 25. No such app has yet been released. 

Interoperability of messaging apps — The suit alleges that Apple “makes third-party messaging apps on the iPhone worse generally and relative to Apple Messages.” Specifically, the DOJ seems insistent that Apple should create iMessage for Android, and that its choice not to impedes innovation in smartphone messaging. The suit does mention Apple’s plan to adopt RCS later this year but says this won’t fix the issue because third-party messaging apps “will still be prohibited from incorporating RCS just as they are prohibited from incorporating SMS.” The suit seems confused about who is responsible for the quality and security of SMS (it’s not Apple), and the idea that Apple should be forced to create iMessage for Android seems asinine. iMessage is an iPhone feature. The DOJ’s entire suit fails to mention the plethora of messaging apps available for free for all iPhone users to enjoy, many of which are cross-compatible with Android, such as WhatsApp. 

Compatibility of smartwatches — The DOJ also says that Apple suppresses key functions of third-party smartwatches, such as notifications and consistent connection with the iPhone, in favor of its own Apple Watch. Likewise, Apple also says that by not making its Apple Watch compatible with Android, it further restricts consumer movement. Apple has recently confirmed it spent three years trying to bring the Apple Watch to Android but couldn’t because of technical limitations. 

Access for digital wallets — A key sticking point with the EU too, the DOJ says that Apple has denied users access to digital wallets.” For example, Google Pay isn’t supported on the Apple NFC chip which powers Apple Pay. If the DOJ gets its way, you’ll be able to use third-party wallets for contactless payments on iPhone with fewer limitations going forward. 

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Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9