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Apple's WWDC 2019 party crashed by possible anti-trust probe

Apple CEO Tim Cook and Chief Design Officer Jonathan Ive (R) look over the new Mac Pro during Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose (Photo: Reuters)Premium
Apple CEO Tim Cook and Chief Design Officer Jonathan Ive (R) look over the new Mac Pro during Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose (Photo: Reuters)

  • Apple unveiled tools and features at the conference that could be construed as anticompetitive, developers said
  • Most of the Apple developer conference Monday focused on crowd-pleasing software that shouldn’t offend trustbusters

Just minutes into Apple Inc.’s big annual bash to tout its latest wares, the Trump administration stole the show from Tim Cook. The company is among four Silicon Valley titans facing possible US antitrust probes.

The Justice Department is set to investigate Google and will also oversee scrutiny of Apple. The federal trade commission will take responsibility for probes of Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc. Building an antitrust case is a long process, but assigning official oversight is a major step that has already spurred an investigation from Congress.

Most of the Apple developer conference Monday focused on crowd-pleasing software that shouldn’t offend trustbusters. The company presented several new tools to help developers build software more easily, customize their mobile apps to run on the Mac and make better augmented-reality software. Apple gave plenty of examples of how it’s playing nice with rivals: Google Docs will work better in the iPad’s web browser; Microsoft Corp. is designing a new Minecraft for the iPad; and Microsoft and Sony Corp. game controllers will connect with Apple products.

But Apple also unveiled tools and features that, according to some developers, could be construed at anticompetitive. One of them, called “Sign In with Apple," will let people select which personal information they share with apps and websites when creating accounts. On one hand, it could give officials a reason to go easier on Google and Facebook, which operate the most popular alternatives. On the other, Apple’s decision to make the button mandatory for all apps that provide any third-party login method surprised—and unsettled—some developers.

Other apps unveiled Monday are likely to alienate smaller firms. Apple customers may decide the new Reminders app, which comes free with Apple products, is good enough to replace the to-do lists sold by other companies on the App Store. Makers of apps for menstruation tracking or for turning an iPad into an external computer monitor may also be reevaluating their businesses in the coming months.

Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator who helped crystalize the new antitrust craze, said in March that Apple shouldn’t be allowed to run an app store while also controlling the platform. Apple didn’t make any conciliations on that front Monday. Instead, the company said it would open a new App Store for the Apple Watch.

Although Apple came out with several long-requested updates—a “dark mode" for using the iPhone at night, a new Mac Pro computer, an iTunes breakup—one remains overlooked: the ability to change a default app to something not made by Apple. On the iPhone and iPad, emails will continue opening in Apple Mail, links in Apple Safari and addresses in Apple Maps, regardless of a user’s preference. The European Union cited Google’s use of default settings on Android in its antitrust case last year.

Altogether, Apple gave developers and investors plenty to clap about. It may have also given antitrust enforcers a little more ammunition.

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