Tim Cook defends Apple’s App Store as Epic trial winds down

24 May 2021218 Views

Apple CEO Tim Cook. Image: Iain White/Fennell Photography

Apple and Epic Games will make their final arguments today in a case that could have a major impact on how the App Store operates.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook defended the iPhone maker’s App Store policies when he took the stand in the company’s court case against Epic Games.

The games company, which is behind Fortnite, is suing Apple over its 30pc commission charges in the App Store, which it claims are unfair and anti-competitive.

As the last high-profile witness in the case, Cook faced a grilling from judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers during the questioning around Apple’s business model in the App Store. He argued that maintaining tight controls over the store ensures that Apple could keep iPhones secure.

In one surprising moment, Cook was unable to state if the App Store is profitable, saying Apple doesn’t break down those numbers.

Gonzalez Rogers brought up the fact that Apple previously reduced the commission fee for some app developers to 15pc. This reduction applied to developers making less than $1m in revenue a year. She said that this was a result of Apple bowing to public pressure.

The judge also pressed Cook on the results of a survey that showed 39pc of developers are unhappy with the App Store. Cook challenged those findings, adding that around 40pc of apps are rejected from the store every week.

Security

The case could have far-reaching effects for Apple. Firstly, it could upend the App Store business model but, perhaps more importantly, it could label the iOS ecosystem itself a monopoly.

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Currently iOS is a walled garden with limits around what apps can get in, opposed to the more open nature of Android and Google’s Play Store.

Cook argued that changing this would conflict with Apple’s stance on privacy and make iOS less secure.

“Privacy from our point of view is one of the most important issues of the century, and safety and security are the foundation that privacy is built upon,” Cook said. “Technology has the ability to vacuum up all kinds of data from people, and we like to provide people tools to circumvent that.”

He added that allowing app developers to process payments outside of the App Store would also introduce security risks.

Last year, Epic attempted to evade Apple’s payment controls and offered users a discount if they paid Epic directly rather than through the App Store. This violated Apple’s policies and it removed Fortnite from the store, setting off this legal battle.

As well as the 30pc commission fee, Epic is challenging the restrictions put on app developers by Apple that prevents them from communicating to users that there are alternative means of downloading an app.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Spotify has aired similar grievances. It filed a complaint with the European Commission that has ultimately led to the opening of a formal investigation by EU antitrust authorities into Apple.

Epic chief executive Tim Sweeney has already testified in the US case and both sides will make closing arguments today (24 May) before Gonzalez Rogers makes her decision.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin

editorial@siliconrepublic.com