Lawsuit that could unlock freedom for iPhone users

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A lawsuit filed in the US against Apple could potentially unlock more use options for iPhone customers. PHOTO  | SHUTTERSTOCK

A lawsuit filed in the US against tech giant Apple could potentially unlock more use options for iPhone customers if the prayers sought by the petitioner are granted by the courts.

In the suit, the country’s Justice Department has accused Apple of monopolising the smartphone market and crushing competition by abusing its control of the iPhone app store to lock in customers and developers.

The tech firm also stands accused of taking illegal steps to thwart apps seen as a threat and making rival products less appealing, claims that Apple has denied while vowing to vigorously fight the lawsuit.

"Apple has maintained monopoly power in the smartphone market not simply by staying ahead of the competition on the merits but by violating federal anti-trust law," Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference announcing the suit last week.

But what are the solid issues?

The US says that Apple used its app review process to frustrate the development of super apps and streaming apps, because of its concerns that such applications would provide less incentive for customers to stick with iPhones.

The company is also said to have made it difficult to connect iPhones to smartwatches made by rivals, as well as blocked banks and other financial firms from accessing its tap-to-pay technology, giving itself an upper hand in the contest to earn billions in fees from processing Apple Pay transactions.

The suit also covers how Apple treats messages from rival phones, differentiating them with green bubbles and limiting videos and other features. This, the petitioner says, has worked to create social stigma that has helped the tech giant maintain its grip on the market.

Among the masses, Apple is famous for making its technology easy to use, but analysts opine that it achieves that by tightly controlling – and in some cases – restricting how third-party companies can interact with its products and services.

In several cases, the tech giant has been found to give its products better access and features than its competitors.

The firm, for instance, allows iPhone customers to send high-quality photos and videos seamlessly to one another, but multimedia texts and Android phones are slower and grainy.

“Monopolies like Apple’s threaten the free and fair markets upon which our economy is based. They stifle innovation. They hurt producers and workers and increase cost for consumers,” said Garland on Thursday.

“If left unchallenged, Apple will only continue to strengthen its smartphone monopoly.”

On the local scene, iPhone users who spoke to the Business Daily expressed concerns over features limitations, in particular flagging the device storage question which is said to be overstated.

“I strongly believe that the storage capacity indicated on the iPhone devices is an overstatement because the space often times tends to get depleted sooner than that of a similarly-equipped Android device,” states Jackline Muthoni who has had a taste of both brands.

Even though any potential changes would take years to materialise if the government were to win the case, Apple would be forced to overhaul its current contracts and practices – or even, in the worst-case scenario, lead to a break-up of the company.

Earlier this year, European regulations compelled Apple to give other companies access to the iPhone tap-to-pay hardware chip, powering the creation of competing digital wallets, although the rules are limited strictly to the European Union.

Companies that try to sell subscriptions through the Apple app store have also raised complaints arguing that the tech giant’s enormous share of the smartphone market compels them to pay unnecessarily high commissions of up to 30 percent imposed by Apple on most sales.

In its rejoinder, Apple says the lawsuit would set a dangerous precedent and hinder its ability to make the compelling and consumer-friendly technology that has made it one of the most valuable firms in the world.

“At Apple, we innovate every day to make technology people love – designing products that work seamlessly together, protect people’s privacy and security, and create a magical experience for our users,” said the tech firm in a statement.

“This lawsuit threatens who we are and the principles that set Apple products apart in fiercely competitive markets.”

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