An illustration of the Apple logo is displayed on a broken display monitor. Tiles are coming through the broken pieces.
An illustration of the Apple logo is displayed on a broken display monitor. Tiles are coming through the broken pieces.
Illustrations: Ariel Davis

Apple’s Secret Monopoly

Its App Store has a choke hold on your devices. That may not last much longer.

YYou’ve just dropped $500 on a new iPad Air. You can’t wait to sign up for Netflix and watch Black Mirror on its dazzling Retina display. So you download the app from the iOS App Store, open it up, and… you’re greeted with what looks like an error message.

“Trying to join Netflix?” it reads. “You can’t sign up for Netflix in the app. We know it’s a hassle. After you’re a member, you can start watching in the app.” Bizarrely, it gives no further instructions on how or where to go if you want to sign up for Netflix: no URL, no QR code, not even a hint of how to join. If you aren’t already a member, it’s a complete dead end.

That’s not a bug. It’s a function of Apple policy. With some exceptions, the company doesn’t let users pay app makers directly for their apps or digital services. They can only pay Apple, which takes a 30% cut of all revenue and then passes 70% to the developer. (For subscription services, which account for the majority of App Store revenues, that 30% cut drops to 15% after the first year.) To tighten its grip, Apple prohibits the affected apps from even telling users how they can pay their creators directly.

In 2018, unwilling to continue paying the “Apple tax,” Netflix followed Spotify and Amazon’s Kindle books app in pulling in-app purchases from its iOS app. Users must now sign up elsewhere, such as on the company’s website, in order for the app to become usable. Of course, these brands are big enough to expect that many users will seek them out anyway.

A screenshot of Netflix’s sign-up screen. It says “Trying to join Netflix? You can’t sign up for Netflix in the app.”
A screenshot of Netflix’s sign-up screen. It says “Trying to join Netflix? You can’t sign up for Netflix in the app.”

Smaller app developers, meanwhile, have little choice but to play by Apple’s rules. That’s true even when they’re competing with Apple’s own apps, which pay no such fees and often enjoy deeper access to users’ devices and information.

Now, a handful of developers are speaking out about it — and government regulators are beginning to listen. David Heinemeier Hansson, the co-founder of the project management software company Basecamp, told members of the U.S. House antitrust subcommittee in January that navigating the App Store’s fees, rules, and review processes can feel like a “Kafka-esque nightmare.”

One of the world’s most beloved companies, Apple has long enjoyed a reputation for user-friendly products, and it has cultivated an image as a high-minded protector of users’ privacy. The App Store, launched in 2008, stands as one of its most underrated inventions; it has powered the success of the iPhone—perhaps the most profitable product in human history. The concept was that Apple and developers could share in one another’s success with the iPhone user as the ultimate beneficiary.

“If you want to publish modern software, it’s essentially suicide not to have a presence on the iPhone.”

— David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of Basecamp

It worked beyond the wildest expectation. According to the analyst App Annie, Apple customers downloaded 32 billion iOS apps in 2019, spending a total of $58 billion, and that’s before you get to the billions in ad revenue those apps brought in. The App Store has become a major global industry unto itself.

But critics say that gauzy success tale belies the reality of a company that now wields its enormous market power to bully, extort, and sometimes even destroy rivals and business partners alike. The iOS App Store, in their telling, is a case study in anti-competitive corporate behavior. And they’re fighting to change that — by breaking its choke hold on the Apple ecosystem.

WWhen you think of tech monopolies, you might think of Google’s search engine, which performs an estimated 93% of all internet searches. You might think of Facebook’s dominance of social media: Between Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram, it owns the four most-downloaded apps of the past decade. You might think of Amazon, whose e-commerce platform is larger than those of its next three rivals combined. You might think back to early Microsoft, which was the target of a landmark antitrust investigation in the 1990s when its Windows operating system powered some 85% of all PCs.

You might not think of Apple, whose mobile operating system controls just under half of the U.S. market, and less than a quarter worldwide. (By sheer volume, Google’s Android is the market leader.) Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s headline-making plan to dismantle leading internet platforms didn’t even mention the Cupertino giant. That may be because, despite periodic controversies, it remains widely beloved as a consumer brand. But a growing number of Apple customers, business partners, antitrust experts, and lawmakers are starting to make the case for regulating the company anyway. Apple, they say, may not look like a classic monopoly. But when it comes to how it runs the iOS App Store — the fees it charges, the terms it imposes, its black-box editorial decisions, its content restrictions, and how it marshals its resources to copy other companies’ apps and then squash them — it sure is acting like one.

Yes, Android offers an alternative. Yet with iOS users accounting for a majority of all mobile app revenues in the United States, developers have little choice but to create software for Apple’s products. “If you want to publish modern software, it’s essentially suicide not to have a presence on the iPhone,” Hansson told OneZero.

Whether Apple customers have a real choice in mobile platforms, once they’ve bought into the company’s ecosystem, is another question. In theory, they could trade in their pricey hardware for devices that run Android, which offers equivalents of many iOS features and apps. In reality, Apple has built its empire on customer lock-in: making its own gadgets and services work seamlessly with one another, but not with those of rival companies. Tasks as simple as texting your friends can become a migraine-inducing mess when you switch from iOS to Android. The more Apple products you buy, the more onerous it becomes to abandon ship.

Apple’s platform is significantly less open than Google’s: Unlike its rival, Apple doesn’t allow any app stores on the iPhone other than its own, and it doesn’t allow users to “sideload” apps downloaded from the web or elsewhere. The company says its goal is to ensure users can trust every app they download; allowing unapproved apps could expose users to privacy violations or malware. Critics counter that there are better ways to balance the goals of privacy and security with openness and consumer choice. (The App Store is also, for what it’s worth, not foolproof.)

The case against Apple goes beyond iOS. At a time when Apple is trying to reinvent itself as a services company to offset plateauing hardware sales — pushing subscriptions to Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple News+, and Apple Arcade, as well as its own credit card — the antitrust concerns are growing more urgent. Once a theoretical debate, the question of whether its App Store constitutes an illegal monopoly is now being actively litigated on multiple fronts.

The company faces an antitrust lawsuit from consumers; a separate antitrust lawsuit from developers; a formal antitrust complaint from Spotify in the European Union; investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice; and an inquiry by the antitrust subcommittee of the U.S House of Representatives. At stake are not only Apple’s profits, but the future of mobile software.

Apple insists that it isn’t a monopoly, and that it strives to make the app store a fair and level playing field even as its own apps compete on that field. But in the face of unprecedented scrutiny, there are signs that the famously stubborn company may be feeling the pressure to prove it. For example, just last week, Bloomberg reported that Apple is considering allowing users to change the default mail and web browser apps on their iPhones and iPads, replacing Apple’s own Mail and Safari with rival apps such as Gmail and Firefox.

OnOn a Friday morning in January in Boulder, Colorado, executives from four midsize tech startups stood before U.S. lawmakers to make the case that the largest online platforms are using their market power to bully, extort, copy, and ultimately crush innovative competitors. The unusual field hearing, held far from the Washington corridors where big tech lobbyists ply their trade, was convened by Rep. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law. It was the fifth and last in a series of hearings on digital markets and competition, which will culminate in a bipartisan report due in April.

Sitting just behind Cicilline at the hearing was Lina Khan, the wunderkind lawyer who has reshaped the national conversation about tech and antitrust. Having made headlines for her critique of Amazon’s market power, Khan last year accepted a position as staff counsel to the House antitrust subcommittee specifically to help lead this inquiry. As the face of a new, more aggressive school of thought on antitrust policy, Khan’s presence at these hearings is a signal to big tech companies that the committee means business.

Google and Amazon both featured prominently in the Boulder testimony, with smart speaker company Sonos accusing the former of idea theft and predatory pricing, while the smartphone accessory maker PopSockets accused Amazon of “bullying with a smile.” But, perhaps surprisingly, some of the witnesses’ strongest arguments were directed at Apple.

An executive for Tile, which makes Bluetooth tracking devices to help users find misplaced or stolen items, said her company built its business on Apple’s platform, using its iOS app as the software companion to its hardware. And ever since it launched in 2014, business was good — until last June, when Apple was reported to be working on its own version of Tile.

Since then, Tile has been under siege, testified Kirsten Daru, vice president and general counsel of the San Mateo-based company. Apple abruptly stopped carrying Tile’s physical devices in Apple Stores. It hired away the engineer Tile had sent to help Apple integrate its products with Siri. It developed an “offline finding” system competitive with Tile and built it into the iPhone’s operating system via the “Find My” feature, which users can’t delete. (“Find My” predated Tile, but Tile offered functionality that Apple initially did not.) It made location-tracking — critical to Tile’s functionality — more cumbersome for third-party apps to protect user privacy while keeping it simple for Apple’s own software. Apple has introduced new technology that could improve iPhones’ tracking capabilities but has given no indication it will be made available to Tile or other developers. It declined to comment on that question to OneZero.

Through it all, Apple has access to rich information about Tile’s customers on the App Store — demographics, search history, and more — that Tile itself is not allowed to see. “We’re seeing time and again Apple using its dominant market power and engaging in practices that put us at a competitive disadvantage,” Daru said.

Apple rightly points out that allowing third-party apps to track users’ location can raise serious privacy concerns, and says it’s always working on ways to balance users’ privacy with developers’ ability to make their apps as useful as possible.

In a letter to the antitrust subcommittee obtained by OneZero, Apple’s vice president and chief compliance officer, Kyle Andeer, noted that Apple doesn’t restrict the ability of third-party apps such as Tile to track users’ location — it just makes sure the user is aware of it. “Stronger privacy protections may not be in everyone’s business interest, but they are in the interest of every person with a smartphone,” Andeer wrote. Apple also told OneZero it’s working with developers interested in an “always allow” option for location-tracking to provide users that choice when they first set up the app.

Tile is hardly alone in its grievances. Apple’s penchant for copying key features of third-party apps and integrating them into its operating system is so well-known among developers that it has a name: “Sherlocking.” It’s a reference to the time—in the early 2000s—when Apple kneecapped a popular third-party web-search interface for Mac OS X, called Watson. Apple built virtually all of Watson’s functionality into its own feature, called Sherlock.

In a 2006 blog post, Watson’s developer, Karelia Software, recalled how Apple’s then-CEO Steve Jobs responded when they complained about the company’s 2002 power play. “Here’s how I see it,” Jobs said, according to Karelia founder Dan Wood’s loose paraphrase. “You know those handcars, the little machines that people stand on and pump to move along on the train tracks? That’s Karelia. Apple is the steam train that owns the tracks.”

From an antitrust standpoint, the metaphor is almost too perfect. It was the monopoly power of railroads in the late 19th century — and their ability to make or break the businesses that used their tracks — that spurred the first U.S. antitrust regulations.

There’s another Jobs quote that’s relevant here. Referencing Picasso’s famous saying, “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” Jobs said of Apple in 2006. “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” Company executives later tried to finesse the quote’s semantics, but there’s no denying that much of iOS today is built on ideas that were not originally Apple’s.

To be fair, this is true of a great many successful companies; business success has always depended on marketing and execution, not just innovation. Still, the App Store’s history is littered with companies that rose to prominence only for Apple to incorporate and profit from their inventions.

Tile believes it represents one such invention. So does Blix, the developer of an email app called BlueMail, which included an anonymous sign-in feature. Blix says Apple copied its idea for its new Sign In With Apple feature, which it is now requiring of every app developer that allows social logins. Days after the feature was announced in June 2019, Blix says, Apple kicked BlueMail off of its Mac App Store.

Apple maintains that was for security reasons, and that its offers to help Blix get back on the store were rebuffed. “The App Store has a uniform set of guidelines, equally applicable to all developers, that are meant to protect users,” the company said in a statement to OneZero and other media outlets. “Blix is proposing to override basic data security protections which can expose users’ computers to malware that can harm their Macs and threaten their privacy.”

Blix responded to its removal by suing Apple for patent infringement, writing an open letter to CEO Tim Cook in November 2019, and recruiting other developers who felt wronged by Apple to join its cause. In February 2020, Apple restored BlueMail to the Mac App Store, but Blix says it is not dropping its lawsuit. Blix co-founder Dan Volach said in a statement that Apple’s response proved the value of speaking out. ”When we wrote to Apple’s developer community, BlueMail was back on the App Store within a week.”

FFor many developers whose livelihoods depend on the App Store, speaking out can feel like a risky strategy. As Ida Tin, CEO of the period-tracking app Clue, told the Washington Post in September 2019: “You don’t want to annoy the milkman when you only have one milkman.” At the time, Apple had just announced similar period-tracking features in iOS, casting Clue’s future in doubt. At launch, however, Apple made its new cycle tracking data available to Clue and other third-party apps via its HealthKit programming interface, or API, which has given them at least a chance to compete with its own offerings.

As Apple frames it, the App Store is all about competition and consumer choice. In the draft response to the House antitrust committee obtained by OneZero, Andeer wrote, “Ever since we created the App Store, we’ve embraced competition as the best way to help our users access the best apps — even when those apps compete directly with our own. Our apps compete with third-party developers’ apps across every category, and in many cases, the developers’ apps are more successful.” (Update: Apple’s full response to the subcommittee has now been published. You can read it here.)

When Apple rejects rivals’ app updates or runs with their ideas, the company says, it’s always with the user’s interests in mind. But developers benefit handsomely, as well: Apple says it has paid out more than $155 billion in App Store revenues to third-party developers over the years. The company also points out that the majority of apps on the App Store — 84%— are free, and thus pay nothing to Apple. These apps — which include such big names as Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest — make money by selling ads, and the main benefit to Apple is simply to make its devices more useful and attractive to buyers.

An Apple chart depicting rival apps that it feels offer services similar to its own. Credit: Apple

Apple — and its cardinal simplicity — are beloved for a reason. There is something to be said for Apple’s ability to integrate new features into its operating system, even if that puts some apps out of business. It’s hard to see how consumers were better off, for instance, when turning their iPhone into a flashlight required opening the App Store, navigating a slew of competing flashlight apps from developers they’ve never heard of, and trying to figure out which ones were legit and which were trying to spam them with ads or mine their data.

And while it can feel unfair for Apple to give its own apps access that third-party rivals lack, figuring out which third-party apps deserve what levels of access is undoubtedly tricky. It might sound simple to leave all such decisions to the user, but that presupposes a level of sophistication that it’s unreasonable to expect of the average iPhone owner. It also presupposes good faith on the part of every developer, when in reality there are plenty of scammers out there.

It’s tough to make the case for curbing a company whose public image is sparkling.

The problem is when Apple uses those excuses to justify actions that privilege its own business over those of legitimate rivals — a trend that Cicilline remarked on at the January hearing. “I’m increasingly concerned about the use of privacy as a shield for anti-competitive conduct,” he said.

Sherlocking is only one of the ways that Apple wields its power over other firms. And in some cases, it’s hard to see the benefit to anyone other than Apple itself.

Sweden-based Spotify, whose streaming app competes directly with Apple’s own Apple Music, last year filed a formal complaint against Apple with the European Union’s antitrust regulators. It also launched a site called Time to Play Fair, calling attention to Apple’s alleged abuses. The company claimed that Apple repeatedly rejected or delayed approval of updates to the Spotify app, degrading the quality of its product, while working on Apple Music.

“They continue to give themselves an unfair advantage at every turn,” CEO Daniel Ek wrote. In the App Store, he said, Apple was acting as both “player and referee,” a metaphor that echoed Warren’s framing in her call to break up big tech platforms. (Though she didn’t mention Apple at first, Warren has since clarified that she thinks Apple should be broken up too.)

Apple has responded with its own marketing website touting the App Store as a boon to consumers and developers alike: “Since the launch of the App Store, an entire industry has been built around app design and development, generating over 1,500,000 U.S. jobs and over 1,570,000 jobs across Europe.”

Still, the signs of discontent are growing. On February 13, Google’s YouTube TV became the first major streaming app to announce it would not only prohibit new signups through iOS, but disable the accounts of existing users unless they switch to paying Google directly. In that case, there’s no moral high ground: Google takes the same 30% cut from mobile apps that use its Google Play Store on Android.

That same week, at a game conference in Las Vegas, Tim Sweeney, CEO of Fortnite-maker Epic Games, railed against both Apple and Google for their high fees, and for discouraging users from using other app stores, such as Epic’s own Epic Games Store, which takes only a 12% cut from developers. He contrasted Apple and Google’s rates with the 2% to 3% fees charged by credit card companies. In the world of gaming and apps, Sweeney said, “Undue power has accrued to participants in the supply chain who are not at the core of the industry.”

Most developers, of course, have nowhere near the scale or resources of those Goliaths. At the same House antitrust subcommittee hearing in which Tile testified, Basecamp’s Hansson decried the effects of Apple’s terms and payment policies on developers of more modest means. Basecamp is among the companies that has tried to encourage users to sign up outside of its iOS app. Its attempts to do so have landed it in app-review purgatory more than once. “It’s a horrible experience for users,” Hansson said.

Tech companies sometimes dismiss criticism on the grounds that their critics don’t understand the industry. But at the Colorado hearing, all four of the major witnesses — from Tile, Basecamp, Sonos, and PopSockets — represented tech-savvy startups. Hansson, in particular, is a legend among computer programmers, having invented the popular coding language Ruby on Rails.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle sounded moved, persuaded, and, in some cases, shocked by the testimony. While the Democrats called the hearing, Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck appeared equally chagrined by Apple’s behavior and interested in possible remedies. “I think it’s clear there’s abuse in the marketplace and a need for action,” Buck said.

Hansson said he was gratified by the response. “There wasn’t a clear consensus about what needs to be done. But just the fact that we can agree on the problem, in this day and age, is amazing.”

TThat Apple’s playing field is massive, and tilted toward Cupertino, can hardly be questioned at this point. Whether Congress, the courts, or federal agencies will do anything to change it is another matter. And it may depend at least in part on public sentiment.

Most users probably know little about what goes on behind the scenes of the App Store, and even if they did, they might not care — unless more developers start standing up to Apple by sacrificing their own apps’ functionality, as Netflix and Spotify have done. Any elected official who votes to regulate Apple in a way that makes its devices less seamless will have to explain to angry iPhone owners why that was worth it.

In the absence of new regulation, antitrust enforcement is largely a matter of interpretation. That’s because the federal law that forms the basis for U.S. antitrust policy is both categorical in its language and also profoundly vague. Section two of the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act reads simply:

Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony.

The act does not make clear exactly what it means to “monopolize,” or just how big a “part of the trade or commerce” among states a company must monopolize in order to be found guilty of it. Whether Apple can be a monopoly with a market share of less than 50% is thus an open question.

“Monopoly is not a binary,” said Mitch Stoltz, an antitrust lawyer with the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. “There are degrees of market power,” and courts have at least allowed for the possibility that Apple possesses that.

“The strongest case involves establishing that iOS users are something of a captive audience,” he went on. “Their devices are expensive; people don’t switch or buy new devices very often. They’re going longer before buying new devices in recent years. That obviously gives Apple a lot more control” than it would have if users could switch to Android quickly and painlessly, the way they can switch between, say, Uber and Lyft.

The clash is already playing out as multiple antitrust cases against Apple work their way through the courts. A class-action suit brought by consumers, Apple v. Pepper, reached the Supreme Court last year when Apple argued that its consumers lack legal standing to sue it for monopolization. In June 2019, in a 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs, ruling that Apple is the direct seller of apps in the App Store. That doesn’t mean the plaintiffs have won the case. It simply means that consumer antitrust suits against Apple can move forward in the lower courts.

Developers might ultimately have the stronger antitrust case. Indeed, some have brought their own class-action suit, represented by the San Francisco antitrust law firm that successfully sued Apple over e-book prices. Court documents indicate that the case has moved into private mediation. A spokesperson for the plaintiff’s attorneys declined to comment.

Meanwhile, legal thinkers such as Khan and Columbia Law School’s Tim Wu, author of The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age and an occasional OneZero contributor, are calling for a return to the robust federal antitrust enforcement of yore, with big tech firms as their top target. Wu has long maintained that Apple’s “walled garden” represents a threat to competition and the open internet. And while Khan is most famous for her critique of Amazon, she argued in a recent Columbia Law Review paper that Apple is among the platforms whose incentives and behavior suggest a need for greater regulation. She contends that the consumer welfare framework in antitrust is ill-suited to online platforms, which often pursue growth over profit and use their dominance in one sector to crush competitors in other sectors through favoritism or predatory pricing. Khan declined to comment for this story given her ongoing work on the antitrust subcommittee.

If Apple is indeed acting like a monopoly, the question becomes what to do about it. Warren’s proposal was to prohibit the very largest companies from both operating a platform for online commerce and participating in it by selling their own products there. For Apple, that would presumably mean either spinning off the App Store as a separate company, or ceasing development of its own apps. That would shake up the company dramatically.

But Warren is trailing in the Democratic primaries; Trump’s DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim is running a relatively business-friendly department; and Congress probably lacks the unity to pass such decisive measures anytime soon. Few antitrust experts see a breakup as imminent.

A more modest measure, and perhaps a more realistic one in the short run, would be to require Apple to allow sideloading of apps on iOS, as Google does on Android. Among the apps you could sideload would be alternative app stores, which could charge developers lower rates, or offer apps banned on the official iOS App Store.

Apple would likely raise a fuss about the dangers of third-party app stores, and the security concerns of allowing non-Apple-approved software on iOS devices are “not trivial,” the EFF’s Stoltz acknowledged. “But there is an element of paternalism” to that stance, he added. “In the ideal world, the consumer has their choice of app stores and app developers.”

Public Knowledge’s Bergmayer believes allowing sideloading would make a lot of sense as a first step. It could help to defuse some of the concerns around fairness and competition, he said, without preventing Apple from continuing to control its own App Store or develop its own new apps and features.

“I don’t think you have to be totally extreme and say they can’t innovate, they can’t change, they can never do anything” that could hurt rivals, Bergmayer said. “Or that everything has to be entirely open with no restrictions” on what apps users can install. Instead, he suggested, platform owners as large and resourceful as Apple should be expected to develop security measures that allow for a degree of openness while protecting everyday users from bad actors. Ideally, those expectations wouldn’t be limited to Apple alone: Public Knowledge has called on Congress to pass a Digital Platform Act, creating a new regulatory authority focused on digital markets.

ByBy now, many app-makers recognize that the possibility of having your app Sherlocked is just part of the cost of doing business on iOS. Ditto Apple’s hefty cut and ever-changing terms. So far, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down the app economy. App Annie’s annual State of Mobile report, released this month, found that consumer spending on iOS apps jumped from $50 billion in 2018 to $58 billion in 2019. And the analytics firm SensorTower projects it will approach $100 billion by 2023.

Developers may not like the 30% cut taken by Apple and Google, said Amir Ghodrati, App Annie’s director of market insights, in a phone conversation. But given the iOS market’s size and continued growth, most developers find it worth the trade-off compared to trying to get their users to pay directly. As for competition with Apple’s own apps, he noted that some categories fare better than others. Apps that provide a utility or tool — such as Tile — may see their downloads drop off dramatically when Apple incorporates similar features. But those that offer exclusive content, such as games and streaming apps, can often hold their own against Apple’s offerings.

Some developers have managed to weather the vicissitudes of the App Store by staying agile and persisting in the face of setbacks. A 2016 Verge feature profiled a struggling maker of graphics editing apps called Pixite to show how tenuous the business model could be. At the time, the company’s future was in doubt. But when I emailed Pixite this month to see how they were holding up, co-founder Eugene Kaneko responded enthusiastically. “A lot has happened since that article,” he said in an email. “We’ve adopted the subscription business model, doubled in size, and now thriving. We’re also about to release our 17th app on the App Store in a couple of weeks and have a feeling it’s going to be big.”

The ongoing app boom isn’t surprising when you consider that users spent an average of three hours and 40 minutes per day on their mobile devices. In other words, humans around the world now spend more than a fifth of their waking lives on their phones. It’s where we stream media, socialize, read the news, speak in the public square, game, create art, connect our smart homes, do business, and more. And for those on iPhones, Apple holds unilateral control over every aspect of that experience — for now.

In June, when it was first reported that the DOJ and FTC were launching antitrust investigations of Apple and other top tech firms, Apple’s Cook insisted his company is “not a monopoly.” He also criticized the idea of separating platforms from commerce, noting the long history of brick-and-mortar sellers such as Walmart stocking house brands alongside third-party goods.

By December, Cook seemed to be hedging his bets. While maintaining that Apple isn’t a monopoly, he mused in an interview that “a monopoly by itself isn’t bad if it’s not abused.” He went on, “The question for those companies is, do they abuse it? And that is for regulators to decide, not for me to decide.”

Update: A previous version of this article misstated the nature of Spotify’s action against Apple in the European Union. It is a formal antitrust complaint. A previous version also misstated the timing of Apple’s rollout of period-tracking features, and their inclusion in its HealthKit API. They occurred simultaneously.

In addition, the story has been updated to reflect Apple’s latest data on the amount of money it has paid to developers, and to include a link to its full response to the House antitrust subcommittee, which was made public after this story’s publication.

Senior Writer, OneZero, at Medium

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