Apple cloud gaming and mobile browser antitrust investigation

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Apple cloud gaming and mobile browser policies are again under investigation in the UK, following a public consultation on the topics.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had already investigated both issues, and found Apple and Google guilty of anticompetitive behavior, but says that the public wants a “fuller” investigation …

Background

One of the restrictions placed on App Store gaming apps is a ban on cloud gaming apps. This means that a developer cannot offer an app that provides access to multiple games played via cloud servers. It’s suggested that the company’s aim here is to protect its own share of per-game revenue, and to block competition to its own Apple Arcade subscription gaming service.

Additionally, while Apple allows any developer to create its own web browser, and offer it through the App Store, the Cupertino company only approves browsers that use its own WebKit rendering engine. This makes it impossible for a developer to, for example, make a browser app that is faster than Safari – and Apple also blocks access to some Safari features, like Apple Pay integration.

The UK’s antitrust body the CMA previously carried out a year-long investigation into these antitrust issues, finding both companies to be “exercising a stranglehold over these markets.”


Apple has 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 […]

Apple [also] 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.


Apple cloud gaming and WebKit again under investigation

The CMA says that it is today launching a second, “fuller” investigation. While the prompt for it was termed a public consultation, most of the responses, predictably, came from developers.


Responses to the consultation, which have been published today, reveal substantial support for a fuller investigation into the way that Apple and Google dominate the mobile browser market and how Apple restricts cloud gaming through its App Store. Many of those came from browser vendors, web developers, and cloud gaming service providers who say that the status quo is harming their businesses, holding back innovation, and adding unnecessary costs.

Web developers have complained that Apple’s restrictions, combined with suggested underinvestment in its browser technology, lead to added costs and frustration as they have to deal with bugs and glitches when building web pages, and have no choice but to create bespoke mobile apps when a website might be sufficient.


It’s unclear what a second investigation would add to the existing findings. We’ve reached out to the CMA for comment, and will update with any response.

Still unclear whether the CMA will be given teeth

At present, the CMA can only report its findings to the government, and it would be up to Parliament to decide what, if any, action to take.

Back in the summer of 2021, the government proposed to give the CMA statutory powers to directly impose fines and other measures, without needing the approval of Parliament. (Technically, the powers were to be granted to the Digital Markets Unit (DMU) – but this is part of the CMA.)

However, that plan was abandoned earlier this year.

That the government shelved the plan then doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t happen – it’s possible that the initiative will be revived at a later date. This seems particularly likely if a Labour government wins the next general election, but that may not take place until 2025.

Photo: Pandhuya Niking/Unsplash

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