U.S. Department of Justice Sues Apple, Accusing It of Illegally Abusing an iPhone Monopoly

David McCabe and Tripp Mickle, reporting for The New York Times:

The lawsuit filed Thursday focuses on a group of practices that the government said Apple had used to shore up its dominance.

The company “undermines” the ability of iPhone users to message with owners of other types of smartphones, like those running the Android operating system, the government said. That divide — epitomized by the green bubbles that show an Android owner’s messages — sent a signal that other smartphones were lower quality than the iPhone, according to the lawsuit.

But of course SMS is a vastly lower-quality platform than iMessage. Without having read the actual lawsuit yet, I’m curious what they think Apple should do differently on this front. Is Apple obligated to ship an iMessage client for other platforms? For free?

Apple has similarly made it difficult for the iPhone to work with smartwatches other than its own Apple Watch, the government argued. Once an iPhone user owns an Apple Watch it becomes far more costly for them to ditch the phone.

Apple peripherals and Apple software exclusive to Apple devices is, in a nut, what Apple does and what has made their products popular. This summary reeks of technical naivety. The DOJ is alleging that, for example, Apple Watch and iPhone work better together than third-party watches with iPhones not because of specific integration, but because Apple is locking third parties out. Same with Tile trackers vs. AirTags. The only alternative would be to allow third parties to install system software extensions on iOS, like on a Mac or PC.

Watching the DOJ press conference (transcripts of the prepared statements, including Attorney General Merrick Garland’s, are here), there’s a strong undercurrent to the DOJ’s argument that iPhone users are, en masse, trying to switch to Android but finding it too difficult and expensive. That’s not based on reality. Every customer satisfaction survey I’ve seen, from 2007 onward, has shown iPhone owners to be overwhelmingly happy. It’s not just the most successful consumer electronics product in history — perhaps product, period — but it’s arguably the most liked.

Thursday, 21 March 2024