It’s interesting watching the international accusations of anti-competitive practices between large and small companies, and even states / nations and large companies. One thing that often surprises us is how much Apple with their ever-increasing product lock-in / walled gardens, preferential treatment of their own apps and services and complete monopoly over distribution on the most profitable mobile app platform in the world manage to skate by with almost impunity.

This is not to say that other companies aren’t likely behaving in non-competitive ways: Amazon despite their cool tech feels very predatory, Google has had more than their fare share of issues around Search placement and their own products, but somehow Apple manages to get off scot-free because they completely control their platform, somehow that protects them from these accusations for the most part.

Ever tried to set a non-Apple app as a default on iOS? Good Luck. Want your photo backup app to work seamlessly in the background? Good luck. How about having your Bluetooth-based tracker get the same access as Apples own products? Well Tile is having a few issues there themselves.

In a recent submission to the European competition Commissioner Tile has openly accused Apple of anti-competitive behaviour. Why? Broadly it has to do with several factors, some more reasonable than others. Firstly, Apple now sets the “Always Allow” function for all 3rd party services to “off” by default, while allowing all Apple services to have that same setting set to “on” as default.

Apple of course has retorted that this is for security, however it is typical Apple paternalistic behaviour to label all third party services as a security risk and theirs as not. If the setting was consistently off for everyone, then that would be a fair and competitive market.

Tiles’s next complaint, and a bit of a weaker argument, is that Apple no longer stocks their product in their retail store. While we understand that would suck: when it comes to the products sold in a physical store, when there are multiple other retail shopping options (and we think this is the important fact) then we’re not convinced that’s really ant-trust level behaviour. It’s a market dominance move, but likely not “illegal”

Lastly Tile is asserting that Apple is denying them equal placement in the App Store. This is similar to many complaints that Google gets about anti competitive placement of apps and Search results. One big difference between the mobile app stores and physical retail is that consumers have no other options of where to get their apps.

We know, on Android you can side-load apps or install third party app stores, the vast majority of consumers simply don’t, and on iOS the Apple-policed App Store is the ONLY option. The real issue with these claims is validating that there is bias, and then determining what, if any, effect that has on the product.

Tile isn’t the only smaller company to go up against the Goliath that is Apple, most notable Spotify, a company who also seems to be wanting to build their own walled garden, has fought against Apple’s preferential practice with their own music-based products and services.

There is absolutely no doubt that Apple is building increasing higher walls around their increasingly widening walled garden. You can see Apple’s drive to own the entire product stream from retail to accessories, to apps and to services on their devices. Their recent behaviour with the USB standard and pushing to include what amounts to hardware DRM into the open USB standard is evidence enough of that.

Here’s the question, does this drive to own their users and every aspect of their interaction run afoul of anti competition laws? Are the laws even modern enough to police the modern world where a massively locked-in ecosystem traversing the physical and digital worlds now exist? It will be interesting to see what the EU commission eventually come back with.

One thing seems certain in 2020, that regardless of the company, be it Apple, Amazon, Google etc, the current loose regulations are going to do nothing to stop them pushing the boundaries to consumer lock in for their own profits where they think they can get away from it. So we wish all the Davids out there good luck — just remember the slaying of Goliath likely didn’t actually happen.

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Dean Rosolen
Dean Rosolen
1 month ago

Google definitely had a lot to do with Windows Phone’s demise – they and MS had a long running battle over an official YouTube app for Windows Phone and most of their other services never had apps on Windows Phone.