Last updated: March 22, 2013 7:31 pm

EU monitors Apple sales practices

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Europe’s competition watchdog is scrutinising sales practices used by Apple for its range of iPhones and iPads for possible antitrust abuse following alerts from European telecoms groups.

Joaquín Almunia, competition commissioner of the EU, is not formally investigating the US company but a spokesman confirmed that the department had begun monitoring the handset market.

The spokesman said: “The commission has been made aware of Apple’s distribution practices for iPhones and iPads. There have been no formal complaints.

“The commission is currently looking at this situation and, more generally, is actively monitoring market developments. We will intervene if there are indications of anti-competitive behaviour to the detriment of consumers.”

European telecoms operators have long been privately critical of Apple and its sales tactics, with complaints that the US handset maker has used the relative strength of its position in the market to its advantage in negotiating the terms of sales and distribution.

Apple has a tight control over sales and marketing plans for its devices, in particular at the launch stage, which has annoyed operators in the past although not to the extent that they have refused to do business with a group that drives customers to their networks.

However, executives in the industry have become more relaxed given how the market has changed in the past year, with the dominance of Apple’s iPhone range challenged in particular by the emergence of Samsung’s best-selling Galaxy handsets as well as revived competition from Nokia and BlackBerry.

The commission spokesman said: “The markets for smartphones and tablets are very dynamic, innovative and fast-growing. Samsung’s growing market position and the success of Google’s Android platform are good reasons to believe that competition is strong in the markets for smartphones and tablets.”

One person with knowledge of the probe said that there had been no complaints made to the commission, although the information on sales distribution practices had been volunteered by companies unsolicited. He said that commission would look at the market for any evidence of antitrust abuse but that this did not necessarily mean that there would be a formal investigation.

An Apple spokesman said: “Our contracts fully comply with local laws wherever we do business, including the EU.”

The news comes just four months after Apple settled a long-running dispute with the EU about e-book prices, in which Brussels accused Apple of helping five publishers collude in a manner that illegally raised prices for consumers.

Apple made a deal with publishers for the launch of its iPad in 2010 that handed more power on pricing to the publishers, a model that existing retailers such as Amazon were then forced to adopt.

The matter was settled in December after Apple and several of the publishers agreed to change the model, allowing retailers to compete on price and easing the commission’s concerns about competition.

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