Apple can wait on major App Store change until Supreme Court ruling


App Store faces barrage of antitrust charges
The fate of the App Store anti-steering policy is up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Photo: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels CC

Apple is hoping to take its lawsuit with Epic Games all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and on Monday received permission to hold off on making a significant change to the App Store ordered by lower courts until there’s a final decision by the high court.

This means the Mac-maker won’t have to change its App Store policy that prevents developers from sending customers to their websites to pay for apps or services… yet.

App Store anti-steering policy could be dead soon

The court battle between Apple and Epic Games (maker of Fortnite) kicked off in 2020, with the game developer claiming the requirement that all third-party iPhone software come through the App Store made Apple a monopolist. It lost that argument in both a California District Court and the appeals court.

But the district- and appeals-court judges did order the end of Apple’s policy that prevents developers from “steering” customers to their websites. It’s this ruling that the Mac-maker is hoping to take to the Supreme Court. And Ninth Circuit Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. on Monday agreed that Apple doesn’t have to implement the court order until the Supreme Court has had a chance to weigh in.

Apple might have won only a delay

However, as The Verge points out, Smith doesn’t think Apple has any hope of winning an argument at the Supreme Court. In his new ruling, he said, “While the arguments in Apple’s motion may not be technically frivolous, they ignore key aspects of the panel’s reasoning and key factual findings by the district court. When our reasoning and the district court’s findings are considered, Apple’s arguments cannot withstand even the slightest scrutiny.”

On Twitter, Epic Games’ founder and CEO Tim Sweeney expressed disappointment at Monday’s ruling, calling it “justice delayed, again.”

“Sadly, Apple’s anti-steering rules — which both the District Court and the 9th Circuit Court found to be illegal — will remain in place, as the 9th Court Court stayed the injunction that puts an end to the practice,” Sweeney tweeted.

It’s entirely possible the Supreme Court will see so little merit in Apple’s arguments that it’ll refuse to even hear the case. In that situation, Apple will have to allow App Store developers to steer customers to their websites. The same is true if the Court hears the case and rules against the Mac-maker. Only if Apple persuades the justices to its way of thinking will it be able to continue the anti-steering policy in the United States.

But considering the two court rulings so far, it seems more likely that a significant change is coming to the App Store. If so, iPhone and Mac applications as well as entries in the App Store will start telling potential customers that they can pay for subscriptions and other items on the developer’s website, and that all such transactions do not have to go through Apple.


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