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.

When asked what a second investigation would add to the existing findings, the CMA told me that there is a technical difference between a study and an investigation, with the latter leading to legal powers.

Market investigations are more detailed examinations into whether there is an adverse effect on competition in the market(s) for the goods or services referred. If so, the CMA must decide what remedial action, if any, is appropriate. Importantly, a market investigation has the potential for issuing legal orders, should it find harm to competition – that is, it can require companies to do or not do something in order to increase competition in the market.

CMA again set to get statutory powers

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.)

That plan was abandoned earlier this year. However, the CMA tells me that the government has now resurrected the initiative, promising in the recent autumn statement to bring forward the necessary legislation.

Photo: Pandhuya Niking/Unsplash

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About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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