Is it fair to say Apple and Google have monopolized their own app stores?

Sure, data is the oil of the 21st century, but apps are also not far off. In fact, the two are strongly related and basically coexist in symbiosis.

You’re probably more or less familiar with the fact that there’s an ongoing “battle” between a few tech giants. At this point, the disputes between Facebook, Apple, Google, Fortnite, and whichever other company has a dog in that fight have sort of taken the shape of a soap opera. But hold on! The characters haven’t stopped evolving!

Epic Games’ Fortnite game from their respective app stores over “privacy concerns,” expressed in the fact that Fortnite made it possible for users to make in-app purchases using Epic’s own payment method, which of course cut off Apple and Google’s… cut. Epic’s response was to blame Apple and Google for being greedy, referring to the 30% cut they make on app store purchases. The battle quickly escalated and moved to court.

Another major dispute that’s still unfolding is the one of Apple versus Facebook. The iPhone-maker recently decided to introduce a feature called “App Tracking Transparency” – now available on iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, which allows users to pick which apps to permit to track their presence on the platforms.It’s not a secret (or at least we hope it isn’t) that Facebook makes its money through advertisement. It’s a free app, so its business model has to shift towards making “data” instead of money. Of course, Facebook then uses this data to create target marketing – that’s why it sometimes appears like “Facebook (or Google) knows what you want and shows you a picture of it”.

So, to cut a long story short – there’s no way Facebook was ever going to be content with Apple’s move to… break the social media app’s business model. Now, it appears like the war is taking a tactical approach.

Top 20 Applications on iOS & Android according to Comscore report: Are Apple and Google pushing their own apps?

Reportedly, Facebook has financed a survey that aims to show that the majority of apps people use on their phones in the US are pre-installed apps – by Apple or Google. This so-called “first-of-its-kind” report is endorsed by Facebook and shared exclusively with The Verge.

According to the results, pre-installed apps like weather, photos, and clocks, dominate in terms of monthly active users. This is supposed to suggest that those categories of apps make it difficult for other apps (of the same nature) to compete. However, as pointed out by The Verge, we have to bear in mind that default apps aren’t always preferred over third-party apps, with examples like Apple Maps and Apple Music, which don’t make it to the top 20.

What’s really interesting, according to this survey, is that, for example, Google Maps doesn’t make it to the App Store’s top 20 at all, while it’s ranked fourth on the Android list. Both include downloadable apps too.

As mentioned, Facebook financed the study conducted by Comscore. The goal was to demonstrate the “impact of pre-installed apps on the competitive app ecosystem,” but the irony is that Facebook appears to be the only third-party developer with more than one app on the iOS list and the only developer with three apps on the Android list.

An Apple spokesman told The Verge that the Facebook-financed survey from December 2020 was aiming to give a “false impression” on the App Store’s competition-handling practices. They also said that “in truth, third-party apps compete with Apple’s apps across every category and enjoy large scale success.”

So, can we blame Apple and Google for their “app monopoly”?

Now, we don’t need to fact-check anything to know that, for example, WhatsApp will be more popular in certain parts of the world than iMessage. The survey is very much US-centered, and therefore the data is not all that comprehensive.

The whole “investigation” raises multiple questions. Is it fair to say Apple and Google can’t or shouldn’t bundle their own apps with their phones? Moreover, if those apps are removed and users have to download them manually – is this going to make any difference?

Also, some users might actually be unhappy with the fact that legacy apps which they’ve used for a long time won’t be present on their new device. For example, I expect all Google apps to be already present on a new Android flagship since, well – I use and need pretty much all of them. For good or bad, it’s very tricky to navigate your personal/work life or sell phones without Google’s services – ask Huawei.

Furthermore, if Google and Apple are responsible, then other manufacturers should probably be held accountable too. Bloatware on Android phones has been significantly reduced compared to the platform’s early days, but it’s still a thing. Then, smartphones sold by carriers are usually stuffed with additional apps that one might or might not need. Should they be allowed to do that?

In the end…

The verdict here is that there’s no verdict. The discussion is pretty much open, and as shown by Comscore’s survey, there are different points of view on the topic. Also, this particular report has skipped showing browser use and “embedded operating system features” like Siri and Google Assistant. And most notably – the app rankings for Android weren’t focused on particular manufacturers, which also has a big impact on the results.

Nevertheless, it’s good that statistics like this one exist. It’s funny to see that the survey presents Apple’s calculator app as more used than YouTube on iPhone, while the most popular Android calculator (again, according to this report) – Samsung Calculator isn’t even in the top 10 on the Android list.

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