Walled Gardens Inhousing App Store

Apple v Epic Games: everything you need to know about the antitrust court case


By John Glenday, Reporter

May 11, 2021 | 5 min read

Apple has been embroiled in a court case with Fortnite creator Epic Games, which has lodged antitrust claims against the tech giant complaining of prejudicial support for app submissions and updates. The long-standing dispute illustrates the often fractious relationship between high-flying Apple and the app developers who act as the bedrock of its services, many of whom will have popcorn at the ready awaiting the outcome of this trial and its implications for their future relationships.


Apple v Epic Games – the story so far

One courtroom drama you don’t want to miss

  • Epic has escalated a bitter war of words with Apple by taking the tech giant to court to answer its accusations of breaching American antitrust law, following a fallout last August when its hit Fortnite game (and all other Epic content) was unceremoniously booted out of the App Store. Epic parodied Apple’s 1984 ad in response, urging fans to help #FreeFortnite.

  • The resulting bad blood has been simmering for the past year with Apple defending its app-marketplace policies, arguing that fault lies with Epic for breaching a contract governing the distribution of apps on its mobile platforms.

  • Unable to find common ground, the issue will now be resolved at a trial presided over by US district judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who faces the difficult task of dissecting both party’s arguments to alight on the truth of the matter.

The issue at hand

  • Epic’s hackles are raised by the 30% commission charged by Apple for digital app sales, a ‘significant economic drag’ that undermined its ability to invest in new and existing apps.

  • It likens the ‘walled garden’ built by Apple to a Venus flytrap, unfairly siphoning fees from companies desperate to reach its audience of billions.

  • For its part, Apple was angered by a unilateral decision by Epic to embed its dedicated payment processing system into Fortnite, a clear contravention of Apple’s contractual obligation that developers utilize its payment system for in-app digital purchases.

  • Growing animosity has already spilled over onto the radar of regulators in Europe and has even entered the public consciousness, with Epic making its case in an ad campaign that lampooned Apple.

What happens next?

  • The complexity of the case means the trial is expected to run for at least three weeks, with the outcome of interest to parties far beyond the boardrooms of Apple and Epic.

  • A clear-cut decision, either way, would dramatically impact the multi-billion dollar mobile app industry and reshape the balance of power between platform owners and developers.

  • Should Epic emerge victorious it wants to ‘change Apple’s behavior’, scrapping commissions and have their apps reinstated on the App Store.

  • The ramifications of such a decision would be pronounced, with other distribution platforms swept up in a rush to amend their terms and conditions to account for the ruling, sweeping up the likes of PlayStation, Xbox and Google, which maintain separate app ecosystems.

  • For its part, Apple accuses Epic of wanting to have its cake ad eat it, reaping ‘all of the benefits Apple provides without paying’.

  • The 30% commission is justified for covering its role in overseeing payments and maintaining the App Store.

  • Court proceedings will reach a crescendo in the coming days when Apple boss Tim Cook offers his testimony in person, following a similar statement by Epic chief executive Tim Sweeney.

  • Much of the argument will hinge on a dry assessment of the facts brought forward by expert witnesses to go over the relative rights and wrongs of a marketplace run by a single owner.

  • The case continues.

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