Just minutes into Apple’s big annual bash this week to tout its latest wares, the Trump administration stole the show from Tim Cook. The company is among four Silicon Valley titans facing possible US competition probes. The US justice department is set to investigate Google and will also oversee scrutiny of Apple.
The Federal Trade Commission will take responsibility for probes of Amazon and Facebook. Building a competition case, if one ever materialises, is a long process, but assigning official oversight is a major step that has already spurred an investigation from Congress.
Most of the Apple developer conference this week focused on crowd-pleasing software that shouldn’t offend competition trustbusters. The company presented several new tools to help developers build software more easily, customise their mobile apps to run on the Mac, and make better augmented-reality software.
Apple gave plenty of examples of how it’s playing nice with rivals: Google Docs will work better in the iPad’s web browser; Microsoft is designing a new Minecraft for the iPad; and Microsoft and Sony game controllers will connect with Apple products.
But Apple also unveiled tools and features that, according to some developers, could be construed as anticompetitive. One of them, called “Sign In with Apple,” will let people select which personal information they share with apps and websites when creating accounts.
On one hand, it could give officials a reason to go easier on Google and Facebook, which operate the most popular alternatives. On the other, Apple’s decision to make the button mandatory for all apps that provide any third-party login method surprised — and unsettled — some developers. Other apps it unveiled are likely to alienate smaller companies.
Apple customers may decide the new Reminders app, which has a breadth of features and comes free with Apple products, is good enough to replace the to-do lists sold by other companies on the App Store.
Makers of apps for menstruation tracking or for turning an iPad into an external computer monitor may also be re-evaluating their businesses in the coming months.
Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts who helped crystalise the new antitrust competition craze, said in March that Apple shouldn’t be allowed to run an app store while also controlling the platform. Apple didn’t make any conciliations on that front this week. Instead, the company said it would open a new App Store for the Apple Watch.