Last week we saw the result of the Epic vs Apple trial. As expected, most of the stuff that was discussed on the lawsuit was rejected, and the judge gave Apple a pass on almost all of the accusations (also, Epic will have to pay a lot of money due to breaking contracts with Apple). Of course, Apple is claiming that they won the trial (and if you just look at the numbers, I would tend to agree). However though, there were some parts that I found quite interesting and I want to discuss here.
First, the fact that the judge did not say that Apple is not a monopoly, she just stated that Epic was not able to demonstrate that (and to me this is quite relevant, because we can see other trials in the future discussing exactly this point). Second, the judge ordered that, from now on, Apple has to allow developers including information about different pay options that work outside the Apple Store. Many people will say that Apple will not lose much money from that (and I agree), but I think that this is not the point at all. In fact, the questionable benefit split is still there, and they could even make it worse for developers by arguing that they are losing money. However, allowing developers stating that users can give them money without using the app store (and thus evading the Apple tax) is a small crack on the walled garden that iOS is, and who knows where it could end (I still think that different stores are a terrible long shot, but who knows).
During the trial, Apple stated that their model was good, and used two arguments to try to demonstrate that. First, that the tax is a way to obtain money for all the development that Apple has put onto the store. Second, that this model preserves user security, as parallel stores would promote insecure apps. While I agree on the argument that developing the store was expensive (and it still is, as maintaining and updating it entails some costs), they have already won billions of dollars with it. When is it a good moment to say “okay, that is enough, we already recovered our inversion”? Of course, Apple being a company, this moment will never arrive. The second point is so weak that even during the trial, the lawyers found it extremely hard to sustain it (I mean, you can download apps from wherever you want if you use a computer with MacOS). We saw many examples of malicious apps getting very good reviews, and not being removed from the store for months even when Apple was pretty aware of the problem. Security does not just mean privacy. If your users get lured into fake apps, or are the target of questionable marketing tricks to spend money, your system cannot be labelled as secure.
There is another related topic that I also found very interesting at the time, which is the curation process that the store follows. During the court case, there were many exhibits showing the mess it is, with many examples from developers. We even saw some internal mails showing how scam apps where buying 5-star reviews and appearing on top of the store. Also, there has been a lot of developers telling their experiences during the last months via twitter, for example. It seems quite clear to me that the process they follow now (little to no automation, human-based review) is not working (from the exhibits and the stories you find online, the reviewers are even worse than the ones you usually find in academic journal reviewing). Will they switch to more algorithm-based curation like Google does? Will they hire enough people to improve the system? Or will they come up with new solutions? This is one of the main problems users and developers get when there is just one app store on your platform: there is no competition, so there is no rush to improve these systems and people cannot escape the garden to get a better service (does it sound like monopoly practices just to me?).
So, are we going to see new trials regarding these topics? I am pretty certain we will. Is Apple applying monopolistic actions? While you can always argue that if you don’t like their store, you can choose another operating system (Android), I still feel like the way they handle the store is hurting both users and developers, and they can handle the store in that way because there is no other option in the system. It actually reminds me of the famous case against Microsoft with Internet Explorer back in the day…
If you are interested and want to dive deeper on the trial, I found the following links very informative:
Apple Won a Battle to Lose the War, on 500ish
A COMPREHENSIVE BREAKDOWN OF THE EPIC V. APPLE RULING, on the verge
Apple called its Epic ruling a ‘huge win.’ It wasn’t, on the Washington post
PS: I know this might seem impossible, but if someone at Apple reads this, I would just love to be able to type “Twitter” on the app store and get the oficial Twitter app as the first result, instead of some random advertisement shenanigans (you can try with many very famous services. I particularly like to see Amazon Prime Video as the first result when you search for Netflix). I know you do not have a big budget, but it would be a cool feature.