Cloud gaming ban on the App Store, and mandatory WebKit usage, both declared anticompetitive

Cloud gaming ban on the App Store, and mandatory WebKit usage, both declared anticompetitive

Apple’s ban on cloud gaming services in the App Store, and its insistence that all iOS browser apps must use its own WebKit browser engine, have both been declared to be anticompetitive by the UK competition watchdog.

The announcement follows a year-long investigation …

Background

Apple faces an avalanche of antitrust investigations and lawsuits around the world, with the App Store getting the greatest attention.

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 which 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.

Cloud gaming ban anticompetitive

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) carried out an investigation into various antitrust complaints against both Apple and Google, and has today announced its findings. It says both companies restrict competition.

The study found that Apple and Google have an effective duopoly on mobile ecosystems that allows them to exercise a stranglehold over these markets, which include operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices.

Without interventions, both companies are likely to maintain, and even strengthen, their grip over the sector, further restricting competition and limiting incentives for innovators.

The CMA concluded that Apple’s exclusion of cloud gaming services harms both developers and consumers.

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.

Mandatory use of WebKit limits competition

The CMA also concluded that Apple’s insistence that all iOS browsing apps use WebKit – with both speed and functionality limited by the capabilities of this engine – similarly blocks competition.

Apple 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.

This restriction also seriously inhibits the capability of web apps – apps that run on a browser rather than having to be individually downloaded – depriving consumers and businesses of the full benefits of this innovative technology. 

This complaint was voiced earlier this year by a group of developers under the Open Web Advocacy banner.

Investigation into App Store terms continues

A broader investigation into the terms and conditions Apple imposes on developers is also underway, but has not yet released its findings.

Separately, the CMA has an existing competition law investigation underway in relation to Apple’s App Store terms and conditions, which it opened in March 2021.

A similar investigation has been launched into Google’s terms of in-app payments in the Play Store.

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