Looking at the Apple monopoly

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

Assessing the hold that Apple has on the phone industry

In the past week, the United States Justice Department filed a lawsuit suing Apple Inc., citing violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act through actions such as “Blocking Innovative Super Apps,” “Excluding Cross-Platform Messaging Apps,” “Limiting Third Party Digital Wallets” and more. Apple products, as well as the reliance of many college students on the Apple ecosystem, are highly relevant in all of our daily lives. Thus, we at the Technique wished to discuss the lawsuit as a whole, and its strengths and weaknesses.

The way in which Apple achieved its monopolization of the phone industry does not mirror that of other companies that have been dismantled through the Sherman Antitrust Act. In the case of Google’s antitrust lawsuit, the company was pushing software companies into multi-billion dollar deals to ensure Google is the suggested search software. Irrespective of quality, other companies did not have the means to pay so much money. Rather than actively strong-arming competition and small businesses out of the way, Apple cultivated their so-called “ecosystem” to render certain other devices nearly unusable when interfacing with Apple products. This is most notable with features such as iMessage and FaceTime, which are built into Apple products and cannot be downloaded as third-party apps. Messaging in group chats and sending photos between Androids and iPhones results in a notable decrease in photograph quality, forcing many people onto third-party apps for consistent communication and video. In the United States, this often puts pressure on consumers who can afford it to switch to iPhones to make their communication easier. Even though Apple devices tend to be priced very high, iPhones are considered to be relatively accessible to middle-class America. Apple often subsidizes phones through phone plans, encouraging consumers to buy or finance new phones. Even in younger communities, iPhones are considered trendy and fun; they have been ingrained into our culture. Apple has created a bubble of exclusivity, and even though there may be minimal difference between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 15, there is no doubt that Apple products possess cultural prominence irrespective of their quality. Due to this exclusivity, it is not necessarily Apple’s problem that the iPhone to iPhone interface is much better than iPhone to Android. Apple is selling the platform and experience, not necessarily the device itself. However, while hindering communication to other devices may help Apple keep their hold on their monopoly, it would better the user experience if iPhone users could freely communicate with everyone. 

The government does not have to break Apple up, but regulations are important to keep their hold on the market in check. Forcing users to use Apple services to the detriment of other companies is indirectly forcing people away from other companies. For example, while people do pay for the security of Apple Pay, Apple should offer other options for in-app purchases. They are making it difficult for people to own phones from other brands.

While government sanctions may artificially even the playing field, thereby hurting competition and curtailing innovation; in the United States, Apple’s monopoly is not paralleled by any other company. They have minimal competition and are free to price their products at exorbitant levels and offer fewer and fewer new features each year — for example, purchase of new iPhones do not even include a wall adapter for the charger as they once did. The United States government is concerningly technologically illiterate, as is repeatedly demonstrated by any hearings with prominent figures such as Mark Zuckerberg and Shou Zi Chew. While it is difficult to put monopoly-busting responsibilities in their hands when some members waste their question time asking how apps connect to Wi-Fi, it is still important to exercise the antitrust laws when needed. 

If a company gets so large that other companies are unable to compete or enter the ring, especially due to intentional actions by the monopoly, then the unethicality of the monopoly is undeniable. The point of the government is to impose artificial regulations. It is possible to maintain the exclusivity and quality of a brand without exploiting the industry as a whole. If the government does not step in, then we will likely cease to see the impressive innovation with which Apple made its name.

The Consensus Opinion reflects the majority opinion of the Editorial Board of the Technique, but not necessarily the opinions of individual editors.