Apple’s central argument that it faces competitive pressure from Android loses much of its weight when you consider the cost and hassle of switching mobile operating systems — photos, passwords, text messages and video game high scores can all be lost with a new device. Consumers switching to Google will find an operating system that has mirrored Apple’s fees and is facing antitrust allegations of its own, though at least on Android other app stores are allowed to compete, and there are alternative means to downloading an app onto a device.
Before the congressional antitrust panel, Mr. Cook, from Apple, argued that “Apple does not have a dominant market share in any market where we do business.” But it faces no competition on its own devices.
It’s akin to Ford designing cars so that only Exxon nozzles fit its fuel tanks. You may want the lower prices offered at the Chevron station in town, but you’d have to switch to Chevrolet to get them.
And there are other seemingly arbitrary rules governing the App Store. Amazon, for instance, is allowed to avoid paying the fees by directing Kindle e-book buyers to its website, the kind of workaround that raises Apple’s ire against other app makers. Apple doesn’t mind because e-books are digital versions of physical goods, which don’t trigger the fee, an Apple official confusingly explained to me. Uber and Lyft don’t pay the commission either, even though arranging rides is an entirely digital act.
“The App Store has gotten too big to ignore, it’s too much an integral part of our society,” said Adam Cooper, a software developer who said he begrudgingly offers a paid app version of his art gallery organizing website ArtCollection.io in the App Store. “I don’t like the costs, but there is a group of my customers who want the app; I don’t really have a choice.” That means his Apple customers are worth 30 percent less to him.
Epic’s Mr. Sweeney, in an interview with Times Opinion, said his $17.3 billion company can certainly afford to keep paying Apple hundreds of millions of dollars per year from the sale of digital goods within Fortnite, but he views the fight as a matter of principle. “Apple makes more profit from most games than the developers themselves make,” he said. “And that just sucks.”
His challenge to Apple and Google has attracted the attention of Microsoft, which argued on Epic’s behalf in a court filing, as well as a coalition announced Thursday that includes 12 companies siding with Epic, such as Spotify and Match Group, parent company of the dating apps Tinder and Hinge.
“Markets function properly when developers and consumers can make free choices between each of the different components they want to use in running their lives,” like smartphones, apps and how they pay for things, said Mr. Sweeney. “Each component of the ecosystem should be able to compete with each other freely.”