Is Apple's App Store a monopoly? Depends on who you ask
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The smartphone app business is one of the fiercest markets in which to compete. With literally dozens of developers vying for more and more market share, it can be difficult to turn a profit. That is unless you host the distribution platform through which apps are downloaded. Most of Google’s and Apple’s smartphone-related revenues come from their respective app store. To that end, the question must be asked: do these companies have a monopoly on app distribution?
For Google, the answer is an easy one: no. Android allows users other methods by which they can install applications. There are other marketplaces (think Amazon’s app store and F-Droid, a free and open source app platform), and it’s extremely easy to sideload an app file (or APK) from a downloaded file or via a computer.
Apple, however, has a much tighter hold on which apps can be installed on iOS. There are no third-party marketplaces, and sideloading applications is extremely cumbersome, usually requiring developer-grade tools like Cydia’s Impactor program. Even then, sideloaded apps are automatically blacklisted by iOS unless there is a developer certificate attached to it (something that Apple charges an annual fee for.) It should be noted that Apple does have a free method by which users can attach a valid developer certificate to their iTunes account, but the process requires a certain level of knowledge concerning XCode (Apple’s app development IDE) and isn’t seamless.
So does Apple hold a monopoly on iOS apps? Blind, the anonymous social network designed for employees of various industries, recently polled workers at tech companies this very question. In response to being asked, “Is Apple creating a monopoly by only allowing consumers to purchase apps from their App Store?”, almost 75% of Apple’s own employees said that Apple did not hold a monopoly. (15.14% said yes, 74.93% said no, and 9.92% said they were unsure.)
The primary dissenter was Qualcomm, one of Apple’s largest rivals. 84.75% of Qualcomm respondents said that Apple indeed had a monopoly on iOS app distribution. Spotify and eBay employees rounded out the top 3 affirmatives with 82.8% and 57%, respectively, saying that Apple had a monopoly.
The divide was (unsurprisingly) clearly partisan based on the choice of operating system. 52.2% of Android users said that Apple held a monopoly on iOS app distribution; only 38% of iPhone users agreed. The tech industry overall was closely divided, with 44.1% responding in the affirmative and 40.7% disagreeing.
The purpose of the survey was to see verified employees’ opinions on the matter. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that Apple’s practices did constitute a monopoly, as the only viable method through which users can purchase apps on iOS is through the App Store. Apple receives a 30% commission on all sales made through the App Store, forcing users to pay Apple a small fee for every paid app they purchase. This ruling simply affirmed a group of iPhone users that sued Apple for monopolistic practices; that judgment is still pending court proceedings.
What do you think? Does the App Store constitute a monopoly? Leave a comment below and let us know.
The full survey results are available here.