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Apple braces for antitrust woes by letting users select and install third-party apps during setup of iOS 14.3

Controlling? Us? Never!

iOS 14.3 will prompt some users to install selected third-party applications during setup, in what is likely an attempt to stifle any allegations of anticompetitive behaviour from regulators.

The feature, which is buried deep within the beta version of the upcoming iOS release and was first spotted by 9to5Mac, is believed to be activated depending on the location of the user, and states: “In compliance with regional legal requirements, continue to view available apps to download.”

Although iOS is not the most widely installed mobile operating system (that particular crown belongs to Android), it is unique insofar as the control exerted by Apple on the ecosystem, famously dubbed the Walled Garden. This limits where users can download third-party software - exclusively the App Store - and forces developers to use Apple’s payment processing methods, which take a 30 per cent cut of all transactions. Moreover, until recently, users were unable to select third-party products for their default browser and email apps.

This has prompted antitrust investigations in several jurisdictions, including the US, Japan, and the EU, often prompted by the complaints of competitors, such as Spotify and Rakuten. This is in addition to the legal action taken by Epic Games, which has claimed Apple deliberately tries to disadvantage third-party developers through its app store policies.

Apple isn’t the only phone manufacturer to incorporate third-party downloads into the setup process — Huawei and OPPO both recommend specific apps upon setup. Although these tend to be separate from the core phone experience, and are usually marketing outreach efforts designed to raise the profile of a particular app.

More likely, one can draw parallels between the “browser choice” feature Microsoft was forced to foist upon users by the European Commission, in order to chip away at the then-dominant posture of Internet Explorer. Separately, the Commission forced Google to allow Android users to select their preferred search engine, in order to assuage antitrust concerns.

We’ve asked Apple to comment, and will update this post should we hear back. ®

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