Technology

UK authorities investigate Apple and Google over mobile browsers and cloud gaming

What just happened? Developers have long complained about Apple’s and Google’s control over mobile web browsers and Apple’s cloud gaming restrictions. Regulators in the UK signaled they were aware of these complaints this past summer, but now they have sufficient cause to launch a formal investigation into the mobile giants’ policies.

This week, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced the start of a market investigation into Apple’s and Google’s rules concerning iOS and Android web browsers, respectively. The CMA will also delve into Apple’s refusal to allow cloud gaming apps onto its App Store.

Apple iPhone and iPad users have plenty of web browser options besides Apple’s Safari. However, the Cupertino gatekeepers require them to run on Safari’s WebKit browser engine. Likewise, Google maintains a similar environment with its Chromium engine on Android (most Windows browsers also run on Chromium).

Developers have told the CMA that policies like this harm their businesses by stifling innovation and increasing costs. Some developers say WebKit glitches forced them to build apps — thus paying for Apple certification — for services that should work fine through mobile websites.

Meanwhile, Microsoft, Nvidia, and Google have had to use web pages to circumvent Apple’s soft ban on cloud gaming apps for iOS. It is a soft ban because Apple does not disallow such apps. Instead, it requires each game in a cloud service to be submitted for individual app certification, signaling a preference for subscription services like Apple Arcade and Netflix Games. The Google Play Store allowed cloud gaming apps like Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming and Nvidia’s GeForce Now, even before it closed its competing Stadia cloud gaming platform.

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The CMA called the browser engine and cloud gaming restrictions anticompetitive upon initial review of the issue in June. It noted that 97 percent of 2021 mobile web browsing in the UK happened on either WebKit or Chromium. The regulator considers Apple and Google to be a duopoly in mobile computing.

The UK regulator didn’t specify what consequences it could levy on Apple and Google if it decides to bring charges of anticompetitive behavior against them. However, it said its investigation could encourage a change in the current internal policies.

The European Union is also trying to crack down on mobile browser engine policies. Last month, it enacted the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which forbids companies from forcing users and businesses to use a single browser engine. Any consequences the DMA would bring upon Apple or Google would likely occur over the next few years.

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