Epic Games suggested a change to the iPhone App Store that, if Apple had followed it, might have prevented the lawsuit that landed the two tech giants in court this week.
The game developer recommended that Apple continue to police third-party software, looking for malware, privacy violations, etc. But once the iPhone-maker signed off on an app, it would be up to the developer how the software got distributed.
If Apple loses the court fight with Epic Games, the judge could order major changes to the App Store. And ideas like this might resurface.
Make the App Store more open
The suggestion came from Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney in an email to Apple CEO Tim Cook. He starts by arguing that it “doesn’t seem tenable for Apple to be the sole arbiter of expression and commerce over an app platform approaching a billion users.”
He then says Apple should switch to only checking iPhone software for “API compatibility, safety, data privacy, and fair disclosure practices.” An application that passed through that process would be digitally signed.
It would then be the developer’s decision how to distribute the software. It could go into the App Store or be sold directly to the consumer.
“Compliance review would keep iOS free of malware, while open distribution would combine the best aspects of the App Store with the best aspects of open platforms,” said Sweeney.
Apple rejected Epic Games’ idea
While the suggestion from Epic’s CEO will undoubtedly find supporters, Apple isn’t going to embrace it. That’s certain because Sweeney’s email was sent in 2015. It only came to light now because it was entered as evidence in the Epic Games v. Apple lawsuit.
Sweeney’s suggestion would likely see many applications go independent from the App Store as soon as they became popular enough to generate significant revenue. That’s certainly what Epic Games wants to do with Fortnite.
The iPhone-maker previously made clear that it spent billions of dollars making the App Store what it is, and thinks it deserves to profit from it. “Apple has helped build an economy that’s over a half a trillion dollars a year, half a trillion, and takes a very small sliver of that for the innovation that it unleashed and the expense of running the store,” said Tim Cook in a recent interview.
Hold onto that thought
Apple’s total control of the iOS App Store is at the heart of the company’s ongoing court battle with Epic Games. If Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers rules against the iPhone-maker in the lawsuit, she could order significant changes to the way the App Store is run. And then Sweeney’s suggestion for compliance-only iPhone store reviews might get revisited.
But her ruling almost certainly hinges on whether the App Store qualifies as a monopoly. Apple’s lawyers are arguing in court that the App Store isn’t a monopoly because it’s only one of many channels software makers can use. For example, Epic Games makes versions of Fortnite for Android, Windows, Mac and three different types of game consoles.