The American tech giant Apple is once again in hot water in the EU. Germany has launched a sweeping antitrust probe into the company, alleging that Apple’s iOS operating system stifles competition. At the core of the Federal Antitrust Office’s probe is the operation of the Apple App Store. The App Store is the only platform through which users with iOS phones can download new applications.
The German government will investigate whether the App Store gives Apple a unique position of power over third parties who wish to distribute apps to iOS users. This is also the central focus of a similar probe by the EU’s own antitrust division, which seeks to determine whether Apple Music is unfairly prioritized over other music streaming services on iOS devices.
In an official statement announcing the investigation, the German government confirmed that their investigation would coordinate with the EU’s ongoing probe. The timing of the probe is unlikely to be coincidental: several European countries are conducting investigations into Apple’s practices concurrently.
Germany’s investigation is also looking into the “ecosystem” that Apple’s products exist in. For instance, an Apple Watch and an iPhone would each be locked into using only the apps that Apple authorizes for use through the App Store. The presence of such an ecosystem, the regulatory body contends, could indicate that Apple is exerting undue market dominance.
The EU is well-known for being tougher on companies than some other governments. This is especially true of tech companies. Throughout the 2010s, the EU was notably more critical of the practices of video game developers. The practice of developers hiding some game content behind “loot boxes” was heavily scrutinized by the EU, with some countries branding the practice as gambling and explicitly outlawing it.
Apple, for its own part, has expressed that it wishes to cooperate with the investigation. In a statement given after the German government’s announcement, Apple affirmed that it was willing to discuss its approach in the European market. The company also promised an “open dialogue” regarding the regulators’ allegations.
The statement also included what some have taken as a veiled threat: Apple expressed that it was “proud” to provide over 250,000 jobs in Germany. Some commentators took this to mean that Apple would consider scaling back their operations in Germany if German regulators made them fundamentally alter their business model in the country.