Report: Apple claims iMessage not big enough to fall under purview of EU ‘gatekeeper’ competition law

Via Financial Times, Apple is claiming that iMessage is not big enough to classify as a gatekeeper service under the definitions of the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) regulation. The justification for this argument is somewhat unclear, given that iMessage is a preinstalled app on every iPhone sold and is clearly one of the most used apps on the platform. Apple has not commented publicly.

The first list of gatekeeper services — which will be compelled to follow these tough new DMA regulations — is due to be published this week. Apple’s App Store is expected to be included, likely paving the way for alternative app stores and third-party iPhone app side-loading.

The Digital Markets Act aims to reign in the monopolistic power of large online platforms. If iMessage did fall under the DMA rules, Apple would be forced to open up iMessage to third-party messaging services. (Exactly how this would happen is murky.)

In accordance with the published legislation, to classify as a ‘gatekeeper,’ the service must have more than 45 million monthly active users in the EU. Additionally, the company must have turnover in the EU exceeding 7.5 billion euros annually or a market cap in excess of 75 billion euros.

Apple definitely qualifies on the financial metrics. Whether iMessage has more than 45 million users in Europe is what is really under debate.

There are more than 1 billion iPhones in use worldwide. However, Apple does not publish monthly active user numbers for iMessage publicly, so we can’t know for sure how many users it has in each region. Competitors like WhatsApp are also more dominant in Europe than in the US, where iMessage has higher penetration.

Nevertheless, with the iPhone representing over 25% of the European smartphone market, iMessage surely has to have millions of users, but whether it has more than 45 million is not so clear.

Assuming iMessage is not included in the gatekeeper list set to be published this week, the European Commission will likely open a follow-up investigation that forces Apple to reveal relevant user metrics. Enforcement of all the various Digital Market Act rules will go into effect in the spring of 2024.

Apple engineers are reportedly already working on building support for alternative app stores and side-loading functionality in order for the App Store to comply with the forthcoming EU regulations. Apple previously said that the App Store has more than 101 million users in Europe, far in excess of the 45 million threshold.

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