how the App Store and the obsession with control have led us to this situation.

Fortnite has disappeared from the App Store and Google Play. Epic has wanted to avoid paying commissions in both stores, and that has caused both Apple and Google to ban it . The matter, of course, has brought a tail and has caused a quick and premeditated response from Epic, which has sued Apple (and only Apple) and has parodied the mythical advertisement of ‘1984’ to attack their practices with the App Store.

Google, even though it is involved, is a secondary actor in a situation that has been in the making for years and that now has Apple in its sights. The obsession with control of the company and its inflexible terms with its App Store have been generating more and more criticism and even an investigation by the European Union. Apple wants us all to eat lentils , but some are flat out refusing (or reluctantly eating them).

how the App Store and the obsession with control have led us to this situation

They are lentils

The iPhone did not raise one revolution, but two. The first, without a doubt, that of the device itself, which proposed a new format and a new way of conceiving the telephone as much more than a telephone. The second, a year later, was the App Store .

The Apple App Store became an essential component of the iPhone experience . Without it, it was not possible to install new software, and the development and management of this section led to the creation of a hefty commission for Apple, which since 2008 has taken 30% of all applications and in-app purchases made in your iOS devices (i.e. iPhone, but also iPad).

how the App Store and the obsession with control have led us to this situation

The App Store also takes that 30% commission in the case of subscriptions to applications and games from the App Store, but only during the first year: after that period the commission drops to 15%.

That commission has been the subject of much criticism and much debate. Congressman David Cicilline, who recently led the scrutiny of four of today’s big tech companies (Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google), would say after the process in an interview that Apple’s dominant position allows it to ” collect exorbitant rent – a theft. at gunpoint, basically – intimidating people into paying 30 percent or denying access to their market. “

how the App Store and the obsession with control have led us to this situation

In that public scrutiny, some interesting statements were made about the business models of these companies, and in fact one of the congressmen, Val Demings, indicated that due to their business model with the App Store, “I fear that Apple’s policies are serving to pick winners and losers in the app economy , and that Apple’s rules mean Apple apps always win. “

This is in fact the problem: there is no other way to access iPhone and iPad users than through the App Store, and that is a reality for both large development companies and small independent developers. For all of them the situation is adjusted to the famous “they are lentils. Either you eat them, or you leave them .”

how the App Store and the obsession with control have led us to this situation

The situation on Google’s Android platform is different. Its store, the Play Store, also applies those same commissions, but on Android phones and tablets one can install applications externally . Thus, it is possible to download and install an installation package for android applications (which come in .APK files) and it is also possible to do so through third-party application stores.

Apple’s situation is therefore especially striking, and although criticism and debate about this theoretical monopoly have been going on for years, no one had managed to make the idea falter . Not at least until Spotify complained to Apple when it released Apple Music in 2016 and left its service at a clear disadvantage to iOS users.

Spotify itself had to raise the price of its service by 30% when it was contracted from iOS compared to other alternatives precisely for this reason: the extra cost was paid by the user . For Apple Spotify it was looking for preferential treatment.

how the App Store and the obsession with control have led us to this situation

In 2015 Spotify launched an aggressive promotion that offered a three-month premium subscription for $ 0.99, but only if it was contracted externally to the Apple Store. Apple threatened to remove the app from the store, and the two were fighting over a commission that Apple has continued to defend tooth and nail despite the subsequent lawsuit from Spotify.

For Apple the argument was obvious and soon they were responding to the comments of Daniel Ek, creator of Spotify. For Apple that company, they said, “they want all the benefits of a free application without being one .” In addition, they highlighted, the advertising that is distributed on that platform does not generate income for Apple.

That battle has remained in the background and during this time it has been a clear reference in this debate, but there have been other much more recent cases. Among them is The Omni Group, a development company that had to lay off several of its employees .

how the App Store and the obsession with control have led us to this situation

One of them, Brent Simmons, explained that “the difference between 30% and something reasonable like 10% would have probably meant that some of my friends would still have their jobs at Omni , and that Omni would have had more resources to devote to developing, test and maintain your applications. “

However, and as indicated in Tidbits, something is clear and patent in this situation: this model has made many developers and companies have managed to become what they are and earn a living thanks to this model . The jobs that have been generated directly and especially indirectly after the creation and launch of the App Store and the billions of dollars they have received are testimony to the success of this platform.

The problems with Apple and its commission have also led Netflix to also withdraw its subscriptions through its application on iOS, although the most striking case in recent months we have in HEY, that email client developed by Basecamp that refused to go through the hoop. He ended up doing it after reaching an agreement with Apple, but not before the creator of HEY called those responsible for Apple “gangsters .

Even the European Union has ended up playing the game, and recently launched an investigation against Apple for antitrust practices in the App Store and Apple Pay . To avoid problems, it was rumored in early 2020 that Apple could open its ecosystem, something that after the latest events seems unlikely.

how the App Store and the obsession with control have led us to this situation

Epic strikes and strikes back

And so we come to the events that occurred yesterday and that certainly seemed to show an Epic ready for battle . After introducing changes in Fortnite that prevented both Google and Apple from taking commission for in-game purchases, the Cupertino company banned Fortnite from the App Store, something that Google also did shortly after.

In Epic, as we said, everything seemed to be planned. They expected that ban from the App Store and the Play Store, and they soon responded to the disappearance of their application from these stores, although they specifically focused on Apple not with one counterattack, but with two .

The first, a legal claim against Apple. The second, with great fury, the publication of a video in a parody tone that emulated the famous advertisement “1984” with which Apple presented the Macintosh. Epic turned the tables and put Apple in the role of the bad guys , with the Fortnite characters struggling to break with that regime established by Apple with its App Store.

how the App Store and the obsession with control have led us to this situation

In the lawsuit, yes, Epic indicates that Apple’s practices have caused and continue to cause financial damage to Epic, but the company is not seeking financial compensation now. In fact, all they are after is to end Apple’s dominance of key technology markets and open that ecosystem so that Apple’s mobile devices are open to some competition in the distribution of software, as do their personal computers and laptops.

All this, by the way, comes from a company that has already made a similar move in the world of video games , where Steam had become the reference alternative for the distribution of games on PC.

The appearance of the Epic Games Store and its aggressive pricing and commission policy has made this new actor suddenly gain singular relevance.

In Engadget we have contacted Google and Apple to try to collect clarifications and more details about that position. Those responsible for Google have issued the following statement:

“Android’s open ecosystem allows developers to distribute apps across multiple app stores. For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users. Although Fortnite is still available on Android, it may no longer be available on Play because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play. “

Apple has also issued its statement, in which they regret Epic’s decision and criticize how it has changed its position by failing to accept the terms and conditions of its App Store:

“Today, Epic Games has taken the unfortunate step of violating App Store guidelines that apply equally to all developers and are designed to keep the store safe for our users. As a result, their Fortnite app has been removed from the app. App Store. Epic enabled an in-app feature that was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and did so with the express intention of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to all developers. that sell digital goods or services. “

“Epic has had apps on the App Store for a decade and has benefited from the App Store ecosystem, including the testing and distribution tools and systems that Apple provides to all developers. Epic agreed to the terms and guidelines of the App Store freely and we at Apple are happy that you have built such a successful business on the App Store. The fact that your business interests now lead you to lobby for a special deal does not change the fact that these guidelines establish the A level playing field for all developers and they make the store safe for all users. We will do our best to work with Epic to resolve these violations so that Fortnite can return to the App Store. “

how the App Store and the obsession with control have led us to this situation

Apple and control as maximum

While all this is happening, many make the argument that Apple has all the right in the world to decide how the App Store works and praise a platform that theoretically Apple cares for and pampers to filter dangerous applications (in addition to those that violate its terms, of course ).

Apple’s message falters when it has been shown that copies and clones of all kinds of applications appear in the App Store. Not only that: the presence of strange and potentially harmful applications is also a fact , as demonstrated by a developer named David Barnard who explained in November 2018 how to trick the App Store into publishing certain suspicious applications. There are several articles that actually explain how to try to identify them both in the App Store and in the Google Play Store, where the problem certainly exists even though it seems that it only affects the Google store.

The reality is that Apple maintains a tight and merciless control with its App Store. One that even theorists and famous ‘fanboys’ like John Gruber -of Daring Fireball- openly criticized and that has shown that even applications that for many should be in the App Store are not because of the strict ones (and according to companies like Spotify or Epic, anti-competitive) Apple policies .

In all these years, for example, the browser or mail client in iOS has never changed until the new version, something that although it is not a feature derived from the App Store does show that Apple has always struggled to maintain the maximum control possible on the platform.

how the App Store and the obsession with control have led us to this situation

The latest example of this control is the recent ban on iOS devices being able to offer support for video game streaming services such as Google Stadia or Microsoft’s Project xCloud. Apple’s argument is that with this it cannot guarantee the safety of users – games are played on platforms not controlled by Apple – and violate the terms and conditions of the App Store.

The argument is striking, especially when they do allow us to have Netflix, Kindle or Spotify on iOS devices and do not have control over those contents.

For Apple the difference is that the games are interactive, but that defense is also weakened when we see how Apple admitted the publication of the content of ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’ as ​​an interactive movie on Netflix, for example. And another singular and contradictory element: it is possible to enjoy Steam Link and PS4 Remote Play on iOS , and these services are not so different from what streaming video games offers.

The alternatives for Apple are diverse, but it is likely that the company will not move unless it is expressly forced to do so , perhaps as a result of the European Union investigation. Opening its ecosystem so that external applications could be installed without the App Store through -sideloading- or with third-party stores is an option, as well as that they end up modifying their commissions to alleviate the demands of developers and companies like Spotify or Epic.