In the USA, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is requesting comments on competition in the mobile application ecosystem after Biden signed Executive Order 14036 on Promoting Competition in the American Economy:
today a small number of dominant internet platforms use their power to exclude market entrants, to extract monopoly profits, and to gather intimate personal information that they can exploit for their own advantage. Too many small businesses across the economy depend on those platforms and a few online marketplaces for their survival
NTIA is looking for “concrete and specific information as to what app developers, organizations, and device (i.e.,phones; tablets) users experience, and any potential challenges or barriers that limit app distribution or user adoption”. Written comments must be received on or before 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on May 23, 2022.
Several of its questions encompass Apple hamstringing Progressive Web Apps by requiring all iThing browsers use its own bundled WebKit framework, which has less power than Safari or single-platform iOS apps. Here are some of the questions:
- How should web apps (browser-based) or other apps that operate on a mobile middleware layer be categorized?
- What unique factors, including advantages and obstacles, are there generally for app development — especially start-ups — that are relevant for competition?
- Are there studies or specific examples of the costs or advantages for app developers to build apps for either, or both, of the main operating systems, iOS and Android (which have different requirements)?
- What other barriers (e.g.,legal, technical, market, pricing of interface access such as Application Programing Interfaces [APIs]) exist, if any, in fostering effective interoperability in this ecosystem?
- How do policy decisions by firms that operate app stores, build operating systems, or design hardware impact app developers (e.g., terms of service for app developers)?
- How do, or might, alternative app stores (other than Google Play or the Apple App Store), affect competition in the mobile app ecosystem?
- What evidence is there to assess whether an app store model is necessary for mobile devices, instead of the general-purpose model used for desktop computing applications?
- Is there evidence of legitimate apps being rejected from app stores or otherwise blocked from mobile devices? Is there evidence that this is a common occurrence or happens to significant numbers of apps?
- Are there specific unnecessary (e.g., technical) constraints placed on this ability of app developers to make use of device capabilities, whether by device-makers, service providers or operating system providers, that impact competition?
I urge American developers to send comments to NTIA, whether you’re in favour of Apple allowing real browser choice on iOS by setting Safari free, or against it. You’re welcome to use Bringing Competition to Walled Gardens, our response to a similar investigation by the UK Competition and Markets Authority for inspiration/ cutting and pasting. Make your voice heard!