Apple Sued by US Department of Justice for iPhone Monopoly

March 25, 2024

The big tech news last week was the US Department of Justice suing Apple in an antitrust case. The New York Times has the full PDF of the complaint here. It’s not terribly long and worth a read through to understand what’s going on here, or at least what the DOJ are claiming.

It’s my understanding that the DOJ does not typically bring cases like this that they do not believe they can win. They’re certainly going to have an uphill battle in this one and it will be very interesting to see this play out.

The biggest challenge is going to be proving that a company with, at most, around 60% market share in the U.S. is a true monopoly and is using that status to abuse the market.

Lauren Feiner at The Verge has a great summary of the ways the DOJ is claiming that Apple is illegally maintaining its monopoly:

  • Disrupting “super apps” that encompass many different programs and could degrade “iOS stickiness” by making it easier for iPhone users to switch to competing devices
  • Blocking cloud-streaming apps for things like video games that would lower the need for more expensive hardware
  • Suppressing the quality of messaging between the iPhone and competing platforms like Android
  • Limiting the functionality of third-party smartwatches with its iPhones and making it harder for Apple Watch users to switch from the iPhone due to compatibility issues
  • Blocking third-party developers from creating competing digital wallets with tap-to-pay functionality for the iPhone

I sure hope these are examples to understand the spirit of the complaint, rather than an exhaustive list of actual issues to fix. I think there are much bigger concerns with Apple’s treatment of third-party developers and how the App Store economy works, but of course I’m biased.

In general, I’m having a hard time agreeing that any of this is a good use of the DOJ’s time. I would much rather see Congress enact new laws that prevent the abuses of Apple and other companies rather than trying to apply monopoly laws from the 1890s. But these are the laws we have, and I don’t think Congress will be functionally able to pass anything cogent and reasonable any time soon. For now, we’re stuck with what we have.