Today ended a weeks long antitrust trial between Apple and Epic Games with U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers asking some butt clenching type questions for Cook. Once an underdog in the tech space (Steve Jobs era), Apple is so far long removed from that with the tech giant now facing allegations of monopolizing the very market they were once bottom dog in. Judge Gonzales Rogers pressed about the 30% commission Apple takes on purchases inside apps like that stupid new outfit for your definitely not as cool as you character and subscription services for music so you can hear your elevator music while you study ergonomics and circle jerk.
As you may recall, the epicenter of all this stems from last summer when Epic was kicked out of Apple’s App Store for blatantly disregarding Apple’s rules on digital payments by directing players to its own payment system. Epic has since argued that Apple’s wall garden ecosystem makes it impossible to download iPad and iPhone apps from anywhere but it’s own App Store, rendering it a monopoly.
Apple’s argument states that letting apps direct consumers to commission-free purchase options outside of the App Store “would be akin to Apple going out to Best Buy, putting a sign there where we advertise you can go across the street to the Apple Store to buy an iPhone. If the effort goes into transacting with the customer [in the app], it seems like it ought to happen in the app.” When asked what would be wrong with the app presenting users with the option to make purchases more affordable—or at least providing that information to the users in the app, he responded with “if you allow people to link out like that, you would essentially give up the total return on our IP.”
What it really boils down to are two separate issues: whether the market for in-app purchases within the App Store is unfairly monopolistic, and whether iOS itself is a monopoly that should be opened up to third-party stores and side-loaded apps. Both of those issues are super charged with separate concerns for you (the player/user), the app maker (Epic in this case), and finally Apple (the big dick swinging behemoth of a platform).
Is this just healthy competition with the users privacy in mind, or is it in fact a monopoly that hinders app makers and/or anyone that steps foot into the precious little ecosystem Apple has built? What is more important here? I guess you could also argue that no one is forcing Epic into this stonewalled ecosystem and they are free to build their own platform. Or are they being forced? Since we don’t have a comment section for you keyboard warriors yet, I find pleasure in knowing that you (the keyboard warrior reader) is yelling belligerent profanities (that no one will ever hear) in your own head about why you are right.
Although we have some hints from Judge Gonzalez Rogers about her stance in the matter, there’s no telling which way the court will decide. She is looking to antitrust case law and appears reluctant to give either one of them an easy win. While she has been pretty ball grabbing tight with Apple, she is still concerned about what a win for Epic might do as far as precedents are concerned. Giving that level of control over a company’s business model could just as easily be as dangerous as tipping the scales the other way.
At the conclusion of the trial, Judge Gonzales Rogers said her decision could take quite some time. It could be weeks before we hear about the Epic Games v. Apple trial again. Even after her verdict, it’s almost certain that appeals will only lengthen this sticky saga.