People live on their smartphones. That was true before the pandemic, but app store revenue has grown substantially during the pandemic. In the first half of 2021, consumer global app store spending for the Apple App Store and Google Play were $64.9 billion (and were just $39.7 billion in the same period in pre-pandemic 2019). Even though Android’s worldwide market share is roughly 72% and Apple’s iOS is 27%, Apple’s customers are bigger spenders for apps ($41.5 billion in the App Store and $23.4 billion on Google Play in the first half of 2021).
Regulators worldwide have noticed. In April, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission issued an extensive report on the app marketplaces, and in June, the UK Competition and Markets Authority launched its own investigation. Last week, Senators Blackburn (R-TN), Blumenthal (D-CT), and Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced a new draft bill, S.2710, the Open Apps Market Act, and that was quickly matched in the House. (Disclosure: Sen. Klobuchar and I went to law school together, just in case you care.)
The draft Open Apps Market Act is nice and concrete and so I will focus my attention there. The bill clearly seeks to facilitate competition in a market dominated by two large firms, Apple and Google. The bill is a recognition of the fact that traditional antitrust may not be the best tool for doing that. Antitrust cases, both in the U.S. and in Europe—the regimes I know best—are very slow and typically require a finding of fault by the firms in question. We might want to move faster here and proving fault will almost certainly turn out to be complicated. Plus even if fault is found that doesn’t necessarily result in changes on the ground in the market, as the European Commission has fined Google repeatedly for actions relating to Google search, seemingly without any real change in search markets.
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