Apple won't be forced to open up iMessage to rival messaging services, after the European Commission decided that the app – alongside Microsoft's Bing and Edge –won't be subject to tough new EU regulations. And Google isn't particularly happy about the decision.
Bloomberg (via BGR) reported that the inbound Digital Markets Act (DMA), which comes into play in March 2024, will not affect Apple’s messaging platform, nor Microsoft’s Bing search engine or Edge browser, as none of the services hold enough share in their respective markets.
In short, after a probe which went on for five months, the European Commission has concluded that these digital properties simply aren’t a dominant enough presence to require regulation, and therefore they’re flying under the radar of the DMA.
Unsurprisingly, Apple and Microsoft welcomed the announcement from the European Commission. Ducking the regulation obviously means avoiding headaches around compliance with the DMA, and these apps can carry on as they were with no interference.
But Google, which has been calling on the EU to make Apple's iMessage play fair with Android phones, is less happy with the decision. A Google spokesperson told us that “excluding these popular services from DMA rules means consumers and businesses won’t be offered the breadth of choice that already exists on other, more open platforms”.
Apple has previously said that it will support RCS messages from Android phones in 2024, a compromise that seems to have worked in its favor with this European Commission decision. But Google and others clearly wanted EU regulations to go further.
The Coalition for Open Digital Ecosystems (CODE), a group that Google helped to set up with Meta, Qualcomm and several other tech giants, also stated that “today’s surprising decision undermines the objectives of the DMA, as well as its potential to improve choice and contestability for all Europeans.”
Analysis: A good decision for consumers?
So, is this a good thing, a bad thing? Perhaps the best place to start is asking: what’s the aim of the DMA itself?
The Digital Markets Act is all about ensuring that digital markets are “fair and open” to all-comers. To do this, it intends to regulate so-called “gatekeepers” or large online platforms, providing stipulations to adhere to, and various dos and don’ts for them.
A key part of this is ensuring interoperability with the gatekeeper’s own service, free access to data pertaining to the service, and a whole gamut of regulation, frankly – including preventing companies from prohibiting uninstallation of an app.
After this ruling, none of this will apply to iMessage, Edge or Bing. This isn’t really a great surprise in the case of iMessage, to be fair, because while it’s big in the US, most folks use WhatsApp in Europe, and iMessage isn’t actually all that popular (relatively speaking).
Therefore, iMessage isn't regarded as a gatekeeper, and thus not subject to the regulations. The same is true of Bing and Edge, which are still leagues behind Google and Chrome for market share. Incidentally, if you were wondering, WhatsApp will be regulated under the DMA.
If you think Apple is getting a free pass with the DMA, though, think again. As you may have seen recently, the company is being forced to make some major changes to its mobile operating system.
iOS 17.4 will show you more prominent options for choosing your default browser and will let you download from alternative app stores (not just Apple’s own ecosystem), for starters – which is all huge, of course.
Similarly, Microsoft has been forced to make changes with Windows 11 for the European market, like the ability to uninstall Edge if you want to be rid of the browser, or to be able to unhook Bing from the operating system’s search bar (and more besides).
So, while these individual apps – iMessage, Bing, and Edge – won’t fall under the regulating hammer of the DMA, Apple and Microsoft’s widely-used operating systems most certainly do.
There’s another specter on the horizon for iMessage, though, and that’s the possibility that this kind of regulation may be passed in the US, where Apple’s messaging app does have a big presence.
Furthermore, there’s already mounting pressure from rival browser makers who aren’t happy about the way Apple has dealt with the DMA here, allowing for the aforementioned greater choice and freedom in iOS, but only in Europe – which means that those browser developers must juggle two different versions of their clients for Apple’s mobiles, not just one.