In the second week of August last year, Epic games which is known for blockbuster hits like Fortnite, decided to go to war with Apple. Nine months after the initial tussle, the two companies took it to court last week. The federal court grilled Apple’s chief Tim Cook for four straight hours as he stood witness in this case. Epic took a jab at Apple when it came up with a new feature for their popular Fortnite game’s app that allowed consumers to pay Epic directly for in-app purchases, at a discount, rather than the traditional method of paying via the Apple’s App Store. This let Epic go around Apple’s 30% fee on payments that go through the App Store payment system. Within hours of this update, Apple pulled the game from its App Store for violating App Store guidelines. Following this, Epic filed a lawsuit against Apple, accusing it of being a ‘behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition and stifle innovation.’
The ongoing Apple vs Epic trial unpacked more alarming revelations especially from the top brass of the Cupertino company. Apple’s head of software design, Craig Federighi admitted in court that Apple has a problem with the level of malware, or harmful software, on its operating system for Mac computers—the MacOS. The confession came into light when Fedrighi was asked why the iPhone, which uses the iOS operating system, does not allow multiple stores as the Mac does. The issue surrounding the lack of competitors for the App Store on the iPhone has led to many companies accusing Apple of violating antitrust laws.
Apple claims that it charges the same 30 percent that Google charges. This is true. Google’s Android Play Store does charge the same 30 percent commission Apple charges. However, Android, unlike Apple, allows its users to install apps from sources other than the Google Play Store and allows competing app stores on its smartphones. Fortnite was also pulled from the Google Play Store—for similar reasons as Apple—but the game is still available on Android platforms through third-party stores and via Epic itself.
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“The Mac contains a level of malware that Apple is not happy about and is much worse than what the iOS would allow.”
Apple, however, doesn’t entertain the idea of multiple app stores. This brings us back to Craig Federighi’s confession. When asked why third-party stores could not exist on the iPhone, Federighi stated that iOS has a much higher bar for customer protection. The Mac contains a level of malware that Apple is not happy about and is much worse than what the iOS would allow—despite having users download more software on the iPhone. Federighi compared the two platforms, calling the desktop system a car where someone would have to obey the road’s rules and be cautious while showcasing the iOS as a more child-friendly system that needed higher safety standards.
Federighi’s statements are nothing new. In 2020, Vox talked about how the Mac’s malware problem was getting worse—and might be outpacing Windows PCs for the first time. As a contrast, a recent report by Nokia—which Federighi also cited during the trial—states that iOS devices account for a mere 1.72 percent of mobile malware infections, compared with 26.64 per cent for Android and 38.92 percent for Windows.
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But, for Apple, Epic is not the only unhappy customer. In March 2019, Spotify accused Apple of anti-competitive practices in Europe. Just two months after Spotify’s case, in May 2019, Telegram also accused the tech giant of antitrust rules. Their biggest complaints appear to be about Apple’s 30 percent commission on payments on the App Store. This fee is a non-negotiable element for most apps, except for physical goods–such as online retailers, restaurants and services like Uber.
Apple states that the 30% commission allows it to maintain the store; however, Pavel Durov—Telegram’s CEO and Co-Founder—dismissed this, saying that it ‘costs only a fraction of what Apple takes’ to maintain platforms such as the App Store.
“Once someone has used an iPhone for a while and has bought many apps on it, it would be costly for said person to switch to Android.”
Telegram has also gone further to cite other concerns with Apple. Durov recently stated that he found Apple to be efficient at selling a business model that was based on selling ‘overpriced, obsolete hardware’ and that every time he used an iPhone to test Telegram’s iOS app, he feels ‘thrown back to the Middle Ages,’ because the iPhone does not use of 120Hz display—unlike modern Android phones. The rant against Apple appears to be triggered by a recent New York Times piece that talked about Apple’s relationship with China, given that Durov declared it was no wonder that Apple’s totalitarian practices were so appealing to the Communist Party of China.
According to Durov, the worst part about Apple is their iPhone users, who he called digital slaves of Apple. This remark was made keeping in mind that Apple only lets you install apps via the App Store on its iPhones and because you can only use Apple’s iCloud cloud service to back up your data natively. To add to this, a Yale study on Apple’s antitrust policies reported that once someone has used an iPhone for a while and has bought many apps on it, it would be costly for said person to switch to Android.
Allegations of monopoly followed by Federighi’s testimony paints a rather bleak picture for the company. However, Apple continues to claim that downloading from the App Store is still the safest thing to do.