How the DOJ action may affect Apple Watch

Apple's ecosystem play has long been the electronics industry's envy and curse. After the U.S. Department of Justice sued it on Thursday, the hardware giant faces significant antitrust charges.

The massive case, filed by the attorneys general of 16 states and the District of Columbia, focuses on the iPhone and controversial tactics including the company's app sales wall. The filing also mentions the Apple Watch.

The suit correctly states that the Apple Watch is “only compatible with the iPhone”—a persistent issue among Android users interested in buying the market leader.

“So,” the petition reads, “if Apple can steer a user toward buying an Apple Watch, it becomes more costly for that user to purchase a different kind of smartphone because doing so requires the user to abandon their costly Apple Watch and purchase a new, Android-compatible smartwatch

The complaint states that “cross-platform smartwatches” “can reduce iPhone users’ dependence on Apple’s proprietary hardware and software.” It's clear that Apple's ecosystem play encourages people to use its technology across product lines. This is crucial to the “just works” philosophy.

Apple is hardly the only company that restricts functionality to first-party gear. This is needed for smartwatches and Bluetooth headphones. However, most non-Apple devices use the same operating system, enabling cross-manufacturer capability.

According to the petition, an Apple VP of Product Marketing said that the watch's restricted compatibility “may help prevent iPhone customers from switching.” Though it accuses Apple of "limiting third-party access to new and improved APIs for smartwatch functionality," the suit mostly covers iPhone sales and the Apple Watch.

In the global market, the Apple Watch has outperformed the iPhone. If the DOJ's complaint forces Apple to disclose Apple Watch functionality, it might limit watch-based iPhone sales and open the device to Android users, which could boost sales. The filing also denigrated the Watch, saying it “copied the idea of a smartwatch from third-party developers.”

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