7 Ways the Apple Antitrust Case Could Change Your iPhone

The US Department of Justice has targeted Apple’s alleged smartphone monopoly with its newly filed antitrust lawsuit. It accuses Apple of thwarting innovation, excluding competition, and locking customers into its walled garden. Get ready for a lengthy courtroom battle, and with pockets as deep as Apple’s, who knows what the outcome might be? But concessions seem likely.

Many of the points raised in the lawsuit have double-edged implications, admonishing Apple for not granting third parties more access to crucial iPhone functions, but also for preventing its apps and services from working beyond iPhones. This aggressive legal challenge could significantly impact the iPhone in your pocket. Here are a few changes we might see if the suit proves successful.

iMessage and Android

When Tim Cook was asked about fixing iPhone-to-Android messaging in 2022 by someone upset they couldn’t send videos to their Mum’s Android phone, he glibly replied, “Buy your mom an iPhone.” Those words, quoted in the lawsuit, are coming back to haunt him.

Long rumored, the prospect of Apple’s native messaging app playing nicely with Android phones is an attractive one. Currently, folks receiving text messages from iPhones on their Android phones don’t get end-to-end encryption, read receipts, live typing updates, or stickers and effects.

While Apple earned plaudits for rolling out end-to-end encryption in 2011 and leading the way to tighter security, the suit accused it of hypocrisy in refusing to allow other smartphone platforms such as Android to use its end-to-end encryption iMessage protocol.

For a long time, Apple refused to adopt the widely used RCS (Rich Communication Services) standard. Under pressure from regulators, Apple relented last year, saying it will support RCS at some point during 2024, though it did not mention iMessage.

This suit may finally prompt Apple to fix this problem, or even to roll out iMessage for Android and turn those green bubbles blue.

Better Messaging Apps

The suit makes no bones about messaging. “Apple makes third-party messaging apps on the iPhone worse generally and relative to … Apple’s own messaging app,” it claims. You cannot send or receive SMS text messages on an iPhone without using iMessage.

The suit also criticizes Apple for blocking third-party messaging apps from operating in the background when the app is closed, preventing message delivery confirmation, and blocking access to the iPhone camera to allow users to preview their appearance on video before answering a call, like you can with FaceTime.

If the DOJ prevails, that may lead to a better choice of iMessage alternatives on your iPhone.

More Wallets and Payment Options

If you want to store credit cards, IDs, movie tickets, or car keys on your iPhone, you use Apple Wallet. As the only iPhone app that can access NFC (near-field communication) for payments, you must use Apple Pay if you want to tap to pay for something with your iPhone. The lawsuit accuses Apple of preventing third parties, including trusted banks, from offering digital wallets and supporting tap-to-pay transactions on iPhones.

Apple doesn’t just block other options for iPhone users, it also takes a cut of credit card transactions (0.15 percent commission) from banks, which none of its smartphone competitors do.

If Apple opened this up, you could use a cross-platform digital wallet of your choice, making it easier to switch smartphones. You could also use digital car keys in your car manufacturer’s cross-platform app.

Cloud Gaming

The DOJ alleges that Apple resists cloud gaming services and apps because it perceives them as a threat to the “high-performance local compute” that sets iPhones apart from competitors. The idea is that the hardware doesn’t matter if you offload the processing to the cloud. All you need is a fast internet connection and a cheap device (such as a budget Android phone).

The suit also criticizes Apple for insisting cloud-streaming games be submitted as standalone apps for its approval, and for forcing the cloud games it does allow to use its proprietary payment system.

Perhaps in a preemptive move, Apple announced it would open the App Store for game streaming apps and services in January.

We should see services such as Xbox Cloud Gaming and Nvidia GeForce Now with their own iPhone apps soon, but how subscriptions and game services within those apps will work on iPhones is not yet clear.

If developers could create a single cloud app to run across platforms, it would significantly cut their costs compared with Apple’s current system, and make many more games available on iPhones.

Better Smartwatches

Apple wants you to buy an Apple Watch to go with your iPhone. To that end, the lawsuit points out that Apple only allows third-party smartwatches to access a subset of the application programming interfaces (APIs) that the Apple Watch has access to.

Only the Apple Watch can respond to messages, accept calendar invites, or stay connected to your iPhone when the battery-saving Low Power Mode is on.

Without these restrictions, using third-party smartwatches with an iPhone could be a far better experience.

Apple Watch on Android

The long-reigning champion of every Best Smartwatches guide, including ours, is the Apple Watch. This excellent wearable boasts all kinds of slick integrations with Apple’s wares and services, but you must own an iPhone to use the Apple Watch.

The suit points out that this makes it harder for folks who own both to switch away from Apple (because they’ll need a new phone and a new watch), but it also drives iPhone sales. I would love to use my Apple Watch with my Android phone, but of all the possibilities presented by this suit, this may be the unlikeliest.

Super Apps

The lawsuit talks about Apple’s alleged suppression of “super apps” a lot. Super apps provide multiple functions or mini apps all in one—so they might combine an app store, messaging functionality, and a payment system (like WeChat, for example).

The suit claims that super apps would be good for users and developers, reducing dependence on the iPhone, making it easier to switch to another smartphone, and creating a homogenous experience across platforms. The EU is already forcing Apple to allow third-party app stores in Europe, among other changes, so it might cede some ground here.

Ultimately, Apple will continue to fight this in court, and we may never see some of these proposed changes. An emailed Apple statement said, “This lawsuit threatens who we are and the principles that set Apple products apart … we will vigorously defend against it.”

After its mostly victorious battle with Epic, we would not bet against an Apple win. But many of these changes would be welcome for ordinary iPhone users. Ironically, they may even make the iPhone more attractive for folks who currently use an Android phone.