Apple is set to face an antitrust lawsuit as soon as March, with the Justice Department preparing to argue that the tech behemoth uses anticompetitive practices to protect the dominance of the iPhone.
The DOJ’s is aiming to file the suit sometime in the first quarter, which ends on March 31, people familiar with the impending case told Bloomberg — three months earlier than previously expected.
However, the timing could slip.
As of now, the DOJ’s most senior officials haven’t signed off on the complaint, per Bloomberg’s sources, who asked not to be identified when speaking on an ongoing probe.
The government agency has reportedly already met with Apple’s lawyers three times to discuss the court documents, which could come after a three-year probe by the DOJ.
The feds have been investigating whether Apple has leveraged its various hardware and software products to ensure the iPhone has a dominant hold on the smartphone market.
The probe is said to be focused on several specific elements of the tech behemoth’s business — including whether the Apple Watch performs better when linked to the iPhone versus rival smartphones, and whether Apple is improperly limiting competition for its iMessage text service.
The DOJ’s claims against Apple would likely echo scrutiny from Beeper Mini, which claimed the Cupertino, Calif.-based company violated antitrust law last month when it shut down the application, which enables Android devices to text iPhone users via iMessage.
Beeper — which supports iPhone-only features like high-resolution photos and videos as well as read receipts, group chats and emoji reactions — has alleged that in the weeks following its Dec. 8 launch, Apple “deliberately blocked iMessages from being delivered” to about 60% of its users
Representatives for the DOJ and Apple did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.
An antitrust suit against Apple at any point this year would mark the fourth case the US has pursued under President Joe Biden, who signed an executive order aimed at cracking down on Big Tech within the first year of his term.
Apple has also been locked in an antitrust battle with “Fortnite”-maker Epic Games.
As recently as Tuesday, the Supreme Court allowed a court order to take effect that could loosen Apple’s grip on its lucrative iPhone app store, potentially siphoning billions of dollars away from one of the world’s most profitable companies.
Epic lost its broader claim that Apple was violating federal antitrust law, and the justices also rejected Epic’s appeal Tuesday.
Though Apple didn’t publicly comment on the Supreme Court’s decision, it said following the ruling it will allow developers to use an alternative payment systems moving forward — but will charge a 27% fee for most digital purchases or 12% on subscriptions, according to Bloomberg.
At an earlier stage of Epic’s antitrust suit, the DOJ had said that it was waiting for the high court’s decision before making its own move against Apple, Bloomberg reported.
DOJ officials have also reportedly been monitoring how Apple will be affected by Europe’s new digital gatekeeper rules, the Digital Markets Act, set to take effect on March 7, per Bloomberg.
The legislation “establishes a set of narrowly defined objective criteria for qualifying a large online platform as a so-called ‘gatekeeper,’” according to the European Commission.
The bloc said that the DMA applies to companies that have “strong economic position, significant impact on the internal market and is active in multiple EU countries,” — criteria that Apple’s App Store meets, though the company is appealing.
Apple said it expects to make changes to the App Store as a result of the DMA despite the pending appeal, Bloomberg reported.