A United States appeals court agreed with a lower court’s ruling that Apple’s App Store does not break U.S. antitrust law. This is a victory for Apple’s efforts to keep the government from changing the way the App Store runs.
A different ruling from the courts could have resulted in Apple be forced to modify iOS so the iPhone supports sideloading and/or rival software stores.
Courts say iPhone App Store doesn’t break antitrust law
In 2020, Epic Games took Apple to court claiming that the requirement that all third-party iPhone software come through the App Store made Apple a monopolist. The judge in the case disagreed.
Epic Games appealed that decision, but on Monday the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Apple. Its ruling says, in part, “The panel held that Epic failed to establish, as a factual matter, its proposed market definition and the existence of any substantially less restrictive alternative means for Apple to accomplish the procompetitive justifications supporting iOS’s walled-garden ecosystem.”
Apple’s official statement on the appeal’s court ruling says:
“Today’s decision reaffirms Apple’s resounding victory in this case, with nine of ten claims having been decided in Apple’s favor. For the second time in two years, a federal court has ruled that Apple abides by antitrust laws at the state and federal levels.
“The App Store continues to promote competition, drive innovation, and expand opportunity, and we’re proud of its profound contributions to both users and developers around the world.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling on the one remaining claim under state law and are considering further review.”
But Epic wins, too
As Apple’s statement notes, everything did not go its way. The appeals court also upheld the original ruling that software developers are allowed to send customers to their websites to pay for apps or services, rather than requiring all such transactions to go through Apple Pay where the Mac-maker can take a commission.
Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said via Twitter after today’s ruling, “the court’s positive decision rejecting Apple’s anti-steering provisions frees iOS developers to send consumers to the web to do business with them directly there.”
Fortunately, the court's positive decision rejecting Apple's anti-steering provisions frees iOS developers to send consumers to the web to do business with them directly there. We're working on next steps.
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) April 24, 2023
Not the end of the matter
With today’s ruling, it becomes less likely that really major changes will come to the App Store through a court order. But that’s only one of the possibilities.
Congress is considering legislation that would force Apple to open up the iPhone to alternative software stores and sideloading. Apple lobbyists undoubtedly will use Monday’s court decision to argue that the change is unnecessary.
Europe, however, already moved on. The EUs Digital Markets Act will force Apple to allow sideloading of applications. But the modification — likely coming in iOS 17 — will almost certainly be available only in Europe itself, not around the world.