UK CMA publishes scathing App Store report, won't recommend investigation

App Store
App Store (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • The UK Competition and Markets Authority has published its report on mobile ecosystems.
  • It says it has found Apple and Google have an effect 'duopoly' over mobile devices.
  • However, it is not recommending an investigation into the matter.

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority has found Apple and Google have an effective 'duopoly' over the mobile device market but isn't going to investigate the matter.

The report published today sets out the initial findings of the study into mobile ecosystems in the UK, addressing many hot button topics including sideloading and alternative payments for apps on devices like iPhone 13 and Apple's other best iPhones.

The report states:

We have found that Apple and Google have an effective duopoly in the provision of operating systems that run on mobile devices...

  • Because Apple's iOS is only used in Apple devices Apple's share of mobile devices mirrors its share of mobile operating systems. Apple is the largest manufacturer of mobile devices and has a share of [50-60]% of active smartphones as well as [50-60]% of active tablets in the UK.
  • In contrast, Google has a small presence in mobile devices with most Android devices being manufactured by third parties. Google's Android is the second largest mobile operating system and with Android devices accounting for around [40-50]% of all active smartphones and between [20-30]% of active tablets in the UK in 2020.

The report says there was "limited user-driven competition" between different operating systems and "material barriers to switching" between iOS and Android. It said that both Apple and Google also benefit from these barriers to entry.

The report highlights other notable issues, saying changes to commission levels on both Apple and Google's app stores have not had a very material impact on average commission rates. The report says that "both Apple and Google have substantial and entrenched market power in native app distribution, with limited constraints on either the App Store or the Play Store from any of the potential sources of competition that we have assessed." It further stated Apple's App Tracking Transparency and policy on cloud gaming services had entrenched its position in distributing in-app distribution.

The report further touched on the control of browsers and competition between app developers.

Noting potential interventions the CMA says could improve user choice and lower consumer prices while improving the user experience, however noting there could be a tradeoff in increased security risks, privacy risks, worse user experience, and consumer trust. It proposes that remedies could include making it easier to switch between iOS and Android, including using APIs that would make it easier for iOS users to migrate data and apps to Android. The report further notes a choice of in-app payment providers and third-party payments might make transferring subscriptions more straightforward.

The report further suggests requiring Apple to allow alternative app stores and/or sideloading, making it easier to change default browsers, and requiring more interoperability between Apple and Google's ecosystems.

However, these are all proposed interventions, nothing material. The body says it has decided not to make a market investigation reference at this time because it could risk cutting across the body's work to establish a new procompetitive regime in the space.

A further report will follow these interim findings in June of 2022. You can read the report in full here.. iMore has reached out to Apple for comment on the report.

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