After years of scrutiny by regulators and rumblings from states' attorneys general, and following similar prosecutions against Google and other major tech players, Apple was hit with a sweeping lawsuit Thursday accusing it of creating a monopoly around its popular smartphones.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in New Jersey, with the U.S. Department of Justice joining 16 states in the suit. The 88-page suit, as the New York Times reports, accuses Apple of violating antitrust laws by making it difficult for customers to switch away from using iPhones, and making competitors' products less easy to use alongside or pair with Apple products.

"Apple has locked its consumers into the iPhone while locking its competitors out of the market,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco at a press conference, per the Associated Press. Monaco further alleged that Apple had "smothered an entire industry" by stalling others' advancements in smartphone development.

Apple has responded saying that the lawsuit is "wrong on the facts and the law." But the company also defended itself saying that Apple customers have come to rely on the very ecosystem of products that the suit claims is monopolistic.

"This lawsuit threatens who we are and the principles that set Apple products apart in fiercely competitive markets," an Apple spokesperson said, in a statement to the Times. "If successful, it would hinder our ability to create the kind of technology people expect from Apple — where hardware, software, and services intersect. It would also set a dangerous precedent, empowering government to take a heavy hand in designing people’s technology."

The legal complaint begins with a narrative about an email exchange in 2010 between an unnamed Apple executive and then-CEO Steve Jobs. In it, the executive talks about seeing an ad for Amazon's Kindle e-reader in which a woman is seen seamlessly switching between an iPhone, a Kindle, and an Android smartphone. "[One] message that can't be missed is that it is easy to switch from iPhone to Android. Not fun to watch."

Jobs then allegedly responded that Apple should "force" app developers to use its payment system, thereby locking them in to the iPhone platform.

"Over many years, Apple has responded to competitive threats like this one by making it harder or more expensive for its users and developers to leave... [and] more attractive for them to stay," the lawsuit says.

"Each step in Apple’s course of conduct built and reinforced the moat around its smartphone monopoly," the suit continues.

Apple has been able to effectively fend off other antitrust suits, as the Times notes, including one brought by Fortnite maker Epic Games. But this one could come at a steep cost, and the government has not seemed to be letting up in its pursuit of regulatory wins over the booming tech sector.

In a similar prosecution brought by multiple states over its Play Store, Google settled in December for $700, though Google still faces a major, landmark case from the federal government over its monopoly in search-engine technology, and there is a second case accusing Google of antitrust violations in the online advertising sector.

Meta emerged victorious in 2023 after a group of states came after it in an attempt to break up its social media empire, with a federal court ruling that the complaint had come years too late after the company's acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.

The Apple case could prove unique, though. As the Times notes, the Justice Department has been investigating Apple since 2019, and chose to go fairly broad with this prosecution. "Rather than narrowly focus on the App Store, as European regulators have, it focused on Apple’s entire ecosystem of products and services," the Times writes.

Previously: Feds’ Blockbuster Antitrust Suit Against Google Is Underway, Could (Maybe) Break Up Google As We Know It

Photo: Tyler Lastovich