Yesterday, US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers decided Epic Games’ antitrust lawsuit against Apple, delivering a ruling in favor of Apple that comes with significant caveats. Although the Judge found that Apple‘s operation of the App Store isn’t an exercise of monopolistic power, she concluded that App Review Guidelines and related provisions of its agreements with developers foster a lack of pricing transparency store-wide that undermines competition under California law. So, while the decision is undeniably a win for Apple in many respects, it’s also a decidedly mixed bag. I’ve taken the time to read Judge Gonzalez Rogers’ 185-page decision and having written an in-depth look at the issues going into the trial, I thought I’d follow up with what the Court’s ruling is likely to mean for Epic and Apple as well as all developers and consumers.
Posts tagged with "app store"
Apple has resolved an investigation by the Japan Fair Trade Commission by agreeing to allow ‘reader’ apps to link to websites to set up and manage an account with the app’s provider beginning in early 2022. The agreement reflects a loosening of existing App Store Guidelines and will be applied worldwide, but it’s also narrow.
First, the agreement is limited to what Apple refers to as ‘reader‘ apps. In App Review parlance, these are apps like the Netflix or Spotify apps, which “provide previously purchased content or content subscriptions for digital magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, and video.’
Second, the developers of ‘reader’ apps can only share ‘a single link to their website to help users set up and manage their account.’ That language suggests, for example, that users could follow a link in the Kindle app to manage their Amazon account and perhaps initiate Kindle book transfers to an Apple device, but it seems to preclude the Kindle app from offering a catalog of books with links to a product page in a web browser. However, the press release does suggest a link could be used to set up a subscription to digital content like Netflix or Comixology Unlimited.
Third, the agreement doesn’t address videogame streaming services, which Apple does not consider to be ‘reader’ apps. Streaming games fall under a separate section of the App Review Guidelines, which require each game to be submitted to App Review.
The changes announced to end the Japan Fair Trade Commission investigation only affect a narrow category of apps and will only provide a single link out to the web. However, the agreement is a sign that the legal and regulatory scrutiny around the world is beginning to force Apple to change how it runs the App Store. With the number of pending lawsuits and investigations that remain outstanding worldwide, I expect we’ll see more of this sort of adjustment to App Store practices in the upcoming months.
The annual Apple Design Awards were handled a little differently this year. On June 1st, the company, for the first time, announced finalists in six categories: Inclusivity, Delight and Fun, Interaction, Social Impact, Visuals and Graphics, and Innovation. For each category, Apple picked six finalists for a total of 36 ADA contenders.
As a part of sessions held at WWDC today, Apple announced the 12 winners, an app and game in each category:
App Winner: Voice Dream Reader
Apple picked Voice Dream Reader as the winner for the app Inclusivity ADA for its use of VoiceOver technology. The app is a text-to-speech reader that can turn any document or ebook into audio.
Game Winner: HoloVista
In the game Inclusivity category, Apple chose HoloVista, a game where you explore a mysterious mansion, filled with secrets you need to uncover.
Matthew Panzarino writing at TechCrunch breaks down an email message between Steve Jobs, Bertrand Serlet, Scott Forstall, and others that documents the moment the App Store was born. Here’s the message:
Bertrand Serlet to Steve Jobs: “Fine, let’s enable Cocoa Touch apps”
October 2, 2007 pic.twitter.com/9aTxmjgkRS
— Internal Tech Emails (@TechEmails) June 3, 2021
The email captures an important moment in Apple’s history, but as Panzarino explains, it’s also an important lesson in effective leadership:
All in all, this exchange is a wildly important bit of ephemera that underpins the entire app ecosystem era and an explosive growth phase for Internet technology. And it’s also an encapsulation of the kind of environment that has made Apple an effective and brutally efficient company for so many years.
It’s also fascinating to learn how soon after the iPhone’s debut the call was made to let third-party apps onto the platform:
Though there has been plenty of established documentation of Steve being reluctant about allowing third-party apps on iPhone, this email establishes an official timeline for when the decision was not only made but essentially fully formed. And it’s much earlier than the apocryphal discussion about when the call was made. This is just weeks after the first hacky third-party attempts had made their way to iPhone and just under two months since the first iPhone jailbreak toolchain appeared.
Apple is far larger today than it was in 2007, but it was by no means small then either. The sort of ruthlessly efficient decision-making on display in Serlet and Jobs’ interaction is a lot easier for startups with a handful of employees, which makes it notable for a company of Apple’s size in 2007.
Later today, Epic Games and Apple will square off in a high-stakes trial in US federal district court that’s nominally about money. However, if that were all that was at stake, the claims each company has made against the other would likely have been resolved by now. Companies the size of Apple and Epic settle because it’s rarely in their interest to have a judge make decisions for them. However, this trial is different.
There’s more to these disputes than Epic’s allegation that Apple violated antitrust laws and Apple’s claims that Epic violated its developer agreement. Underlying it all is the way the dispute was precipitated by Epic. The Fortnite creator’s actions don’t necessarily absolve Apple of antitrust violations, but Epic’s calculated orchestration of events leading to the dispute have not gone unnoticed by the judge presiding over the case and may influence the trial’s outcome. Coupled with Epic’s efforts to get regulators around the world to take up its cause and its very public crusade against the way Apple operates the App Store, it’s not surprising that the claims haven’t settled. Instead, the parties will begin today with opening arguments in front of US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who the parties have agreed will decide the dispute instead of a jury.
Regardless of your opinion of the way Apple runs the App Store or Epic’s litigation tactics, the thing to keep in mind as the trial starts is that the judge is being asked to settle a legal dispute, not set policy. Both companies have made specific claims against the other, which by definition means the judge’s ruling will likely be narrower in scope than it would be in an antitrust case brought by the US government. Nor is any remedy imposed by the judge likely to be as broad as government regulation of the App Store might be someday.
Still, that doesn’t mean the stakes aren’t high; they are. An adverse ruling against Apple could significantly change the way the company operates the App Store and would likely trigger more antitrust lawsuits and regulatory scrutiny in the future. As a result, I thought it would be useful to dig in and take a closer look at some of the parties’ arguments and the context in which this dispute arose to provide a better sense of what to expect from the trial, which is expected to run about three weeks, and what the outcome might be.
Apple has celebrated Earth Day for many years, but the company has more going on for 2021 than ever before including an environmental justice initiative, content tie-ins across several services, and an Apple Watch challenge.
Just past midnight Pacific time today, Apple filed Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in its legal dispute with Epic Games. The document, a standard pre-trial filing, is designed to serve as a road map for the trial judge, explaining the facts Apple expects will be admitted into evidence at trial, how the law applies to those facts, and the decision Apple believes the court should reach. In other words, it’s a one-sided account of the disputes meant to persuade the judge that Apple’s legal positions are correct. Epic has filed a similar pleading in the case arguing its side of the story.
That context is important to keep in mind because until the judge issues a ruling, filings like these remain legal posturing. That doesn’t mean that Apple’s filing doesn’t contain facts that may be found to be true through the trial process, but until that trial happens, it’s best to approach these sorts of pleadings with skepticism.
That said, the document Apple filed includes some interesting revelations that the company backs up with reference to the documents and other evidence gathered during the pre-trial discovery phase of the litigation. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit is the additional backstory about something Epic called Project Liberty, a plan that Apple says was hatched by Epic in 2019 to free itself from App Store commissions and that Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney recently mentioned in an interview with CNN.
Apple CEO Tim Cook was interviewed on Sway, The New York Times’ podcast hosted by Kara Swisher, in an episode released today. Swisher asked Cook about a wide range of topics, including privacy, iOS 14.5, Parler’s removal from the App Store, autonomous vehicles, AR, its upcoming court case with Epic Games, and more.
On privacy and the reaction to App Tracking Transparency, Cook said he was shocked by the degree of pushback the feature has caused. Asked whether he thought ATT will harm businesses that rely on digital advertising, Cook said:
I think that you can do digital advertising and make money from digital advertising without tracking people when they don’t know they’re being tracked. And I think time will prove that out. I’ve heard this about other things we’ve done in the past that it’s almost existential and it wasn’t. I don’t buy that.
Regarding Parler’s removal from the App Store, Cook explained that can return to the App Store when they comply with its rules:
Well, in some ways, it was a straightforward decision, because they were not adhering to the guidelines of the App Store. You can’t be inciting violence or allow people to incite violence. You can’t allow hate speech and so forth. And they had moved from moderating to not being able to moderate. But we gave them a chance to cure that. And they were unable to do that or didn’t do that. And so we had to pull them off. Now, having said that, Kara, I hope that they come back on. Because we work hard to get people on the store, not to keep people off the store. And so, I’m hoping that they put in the moderation that’s required to be on the store and come back, because I think having more social networks out there is better than having less.
Cook also made the case that human curation on the App Store is a crucial element of the marketplace’s security model, rejecting the notion that users should be able to sideload apps and elaborating:
I think curation is important as a part of the App Store. In any given week, 100,000 applications come into the app review. 40,000 of them are rejected. Most of them are rejected because they don’t work or don’t work like they say that they work. You can imagine if curation went away, what would occur to the App Store in a very short amount of time.
Regarding new products, Cook wouldn’t confirm whether Apple is planning to offer augmented reality hardware or an autonomous car. Still, his excitement about those underlying technologies was evident, noting that AR, in particular, is critical to Apple’s future.
Also of note was Cook’s comment that iOS 14.5 is ‘just a few weeks’ away, which is longer than I expected and perhaps a sign that an April product event will occur.
The interview, which is just under 36 minutes long, touches on other topics, including Apple’s role in policy issues like voting rights, working with the US government, and Cook’s role as the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. The episode is available in Apple Podcasts as well as third-party podcast players, and The New York Times has published a transcript of the entire interview.
Saturday, Apple suspended social media app Parler from the App Store. The move followed Google’s removal of the Android version of the app from the Play Store on Friday and happened at roughly the same time that Amazon announced that it was ending Parler’s access to its cloud services.
Parler is a social network that became popular with conservatives who felt they had been unfairly treated by services like Twitter and Facebook.
On Friday, Google removed the service’s app from the Play Store, telling CNN that:
“We’re aware of continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the US. We recognize that there can be reasonable debate about content policies and that it can be difficult for apps to immediately remove all violative content, but for us to distribute an app through Google Play, we do require that apps implement robust moderation for egregious content. In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”
That same day, BuzzFeed News reported that Apple had given Parler 24-hours to improve its moderation of content posted to the service, or it would be suspended. Although there were reports that Parler removed some content, it wasn’t enough for Apple. On Saturday, in a statement to TechCrunch and other media outlets, the company said:
We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity. Parler has not taken adequate measures to address the proliferation of these threats to people’s safety. We have suspended Parler from the App Store until they resolve these issues.
Around the same time, Amazon announced that it would bar Parler from using its cloud services, which host Parler’s content, beginning Monday at midnight and dealing another serious blow to its future.
We are deeply saddened by the horrific events that occurred in Washington, DC last week. As a site that covers apps, we applaud Apple, Google, and Amazon for taking action to eliminate threats of violence and illegal activity from their platforms. Apps have been a force for good in the world in so many ways, but like any tool, they can be used for evil too. There should never be a place on the App Store or any other app platform for threats of violence or illegal activity.