How the EU could force Apple to open iMessage and end its App Store monopoly
The European Union's new law could be the beginning of the end for Apple’s iMessage and App Store.
Apple and other tech giants are facing even more pressure from the European Union to change their ways. According to a Bloomberg report, Apple is gearing up to allow third-party app stores onto its devices due to an upcoming law from the EU.
The report centers on ripple effects from the EU’s recently passed Digital Markets Act (DMA), which is meant to address anticompetitive practices by tech giants. To comply, tech companies will have to allow for interoperability, including opening up to third-party offerings, like other app stores and messaging platforms.
While Apple is highly protective of its App Store and iMessage features, it may actually be looking to “open up key elements of Apple’s platforms,” as Bloomberg reports. That’s a huge deal if this turns out to be accurate. Here’s what you need to know about the EU’s DMA and how it will affect major tech companies like Apple.
WHAT IS THE DMA AND WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH APPLE?
The EU designed the DMA to prevent a handful of tech companies from running the show. The law is aimed at fostering a fairer business environment by giving consumers more choices and allowing for new opportunities for innovation, instead of letting “gatekeepers” control the market.
In theory, the DMA would stop companies like Apple from giving its App Store or iMessage services priority in an effort to retain exclusivity over its customers. As another example, the law would prevent Google from only offering its search engine on its Pixel smartphones or devices. If the DMA does its job, tech giants wouldn’t be allowed to wall off vast sections of their ecosystems.
HOW WILL THE DMA AFFECT APPLE’S APP STORE?
Under the DMA, tech companies would have to allow for app store alternatives. For Apple, it would mean making way for third-party app stores on its devices alongside its own App Store. The law could even allow iPhone and iPad users to download software without going through the App Store, which is notorious for its 30 percent commission.
This change would most likely mean a loss in profits for Apple, but could also pave the way for better-designed app stores. There’s also the potential for users to skip app stores completely and “sideload” apps onto iPhones or iPads, where they can directly transfer the app to the device without the need for an app store.
WILL THE DMA FORCE APPLE TO OPEN UP iMESSAGE?
Part of the DMA also calls for interoperability between messaging platforms, which could change how Apple treats iMessage. Apple’s blue-bubble messaging app has long-segregated Android devices from using its full feature set on iMessage, delineating between Apple and non-Apple messages with the dreaded green bubble.
If Apple is forced to include interoperability between its messaging service and others, it would likely undercut one of Apple’s most valuable selling points, and one of its strongest tactics for locking users into its ecosystem. Google meanwhile has been continuing its campaign to shame Apple into adopting RCS messaging, since most other smartphones already use this standard.
According to Bloomberg, Apple has no immediate plans of adopting RCS, but that doesn’t mean some concession from Apple isn’t incoming.
WILL APPLE COMPLY WITH THE DMA?
If Apple wants to keep selling iPhones in the EU and not face fines of up to 20 percent of the company’s total worldwide annual turnover, then it will comply. Knowing Apple though, it may try to figure out some creative way that allows for compliance while still retaining control of its App Store.
We can already see this playing out in a similar arena, where the EU is trying to get Apple and other tech companies to adopt the USB-C standard. While the EU law could force Apple to design an iPhone with a USB-C port, the company hasn’t offered any specifics on what that means, only teasing that it would comply.
WILL EU RULES AFFECT APPLE CUSTOMERS IN THE U.S.?
It’s too early to say, but given concurrent pressure in the U.S., it’s not completely out of the question. The U.S. Senate has introduced the American Choice and Innovation Act from Minnesota’s Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar. Although, the bill has only been introduced in the Senate and hasn’t seen much action since. So, while a big first step, we don’t recommend getting your hopes up just yet.