Apple's iPhone comes under EU scrutiny for curbs on rival 'wearable' devices

22 September 2021 12:38 by Lewis Crofts


Restrictions on the way Apple’s iPhone and iPad interact with "wearable" devices such as smart watches, fitness bands and wireless headphones have triggered questions from EU enforcers investigating potentially anticompetitive conduct, MLex has learned.

Over the summer, the European Commission sought feedback on whether technical and contractual barriers were being put in the way of wearable devices wanting to access features such as notifications, messages, music and the chip commonly used for contactless payments.

The fresh scrutiny of Apple’s business in Europe comes as the tech giant rebuts charges that its App Store contains illegal restrictions on developers and faces an ongoing probe into the payments functionality on iPhones.

The latest questionnaires appear to cover territory that is also part of an EU enquiry into smart devices that connect to the Internet, and the interfaces they use to do so. That industry-wide scrutiny has also triggered questions over Google’s use of voice assistants in devices such as smart speakers and next-generation cars.

The commission has asked companies that make “wearables” whether Apple puts obstacles in the way of accessing features on iPhones and iPads, MLex understands.

These could be functions such as reading and replying to an instant message for a watch, location services for a fitness device, or using the camera control. The implication appears to be that Apple may be using technical or contractual means to make life harder for products that may rival its Apple Watch, AirPods or Beats headphones.

Officials asked what kind of control Apple exerts in granting access, whether it's through standardized technology, a certification program or a license agreement.

To improve access, do there need to be changes to the hardware, to the software or to the contract?

The commission is also trying to get a handle on the size of the market, asking how many users of a company’s wearable device are iPhone users, and how much of the company’s revenue comes from those customers.

It also wants to know how likely it is for them to switch to a device with another operating system. Ultimately, the commission is trying to ascertain whether Apple’s restrictions curb the company’s ability to innovate new products.

A spokesperson for the commission declined to comment on the questionnaires. A spokesperson for Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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