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Apple's Epic battle

An old Apple 1 computer.
Credit: CC BY-SA 2, via Wikipedia
It's a nice business if you can get it. Lock down your hardware and operating system to make it impossible — or, at least, extremely difficult — to install applications on the fly, create an app store, impose rules to make sure apps on that store can't direct users to payment processors elsewhere, and then take 30% of a developer's earnings for the privilege of using that app store.

This is essentially why Epic is taking Apple to court and it's why there have been a lot of rumblings of displeasure from Apple application developers lately.

The idea of an app store isn't entirely bad. Users get somewhere to buy apps in confidence; a place where the apps are curated such that they're secure and worthy of installation in the first place. An app store also provides consistency. Things are installed in one way and there are no complex installation instructions to follow.

I can see why Apple want it too. I mean beyond the ludicrous 30% they make from every app sale. It helps them maintain the quality of their phones and iPads. Or, more specifically, the quality of the iOS and iPadOS apps that run on them. They might feel a 'Wild West' of poor quality, side-loaded apps would reflect poorly on their platforms, even if they haven't had anything to do with those apps. They're probably right.

There are problems, though. 30% is a very hefty fee indeed. App store developers have lost that money before they do anything else and, from their perspective, they'll wonder what they're getting for such a massive outlay. It's harder to see the benefits for developers than for users.

Were that fee something more reasonable — like maybe 10% or less — I doubt Apple would be receiving such a torrent of criticism.

Perhaps the main problem, though, is that it's forced upon developers. There are no alternatives because Apple have locked things down to prevent any. This is why Apple are facing accusations of monopolistic behaviour.

Apple don't have to be so rigid on this. They can have an app store and allow third-party installations too. This is what they do on macOS and it seems to work just fine. They're still free to provide a curated app store and they can entice developers and users to partake by extolling the virtues of installing apps that Apple has checked for safety and quality. They could make it quite clear that apps installed by any other method are done so entirely at a user's own risk.

The thing is, they couldn't do that and take 30% of a developer's earnings. They have to make the app store worth it for developers and, judging by a lot of the furore, 30% is just too much.

I'll be very surprised if Apple's app store isn't judged to be monopolistic.

It isn't just Apple of course. Epic is also suing Google in a similar manner over their own app store. Apple and Google are both massive companies and they might be inclined to simply shrug this off if a lesser company were suing them, but Epic has the money to take this the distance. It also comes amidst investigations about antitrust from both the US and the EU and that will add to the two giants' discomfort.

Apple are notorious for ignoring critics and going their own way. That might be part of why they're so successful, but the heat is turned up to eleven on this one. Unless they're super-confident of coming out on top, they might be wise to preempt any rulings, reduce the app store fees significantly and permit side-loading of applications.