The future of the rules used to regulate big tech companies hangs in the balance. Epic Games, the maker of online video game Fortnite, is currently facing Apple in a US federal court, in a trial that could not just decide how mobile apps operate, but how technology firms can act in general.
It all began in 2020, when Epic Games launched an update of its iOS app that bypassed Apple’s payment system, allowing it to take direct payment – a violation of Apple’s terms of service. Apple typically takes a 30 per cent commission on every purchase made on more than 1 billion iPhones around the world. The update meant it would miss out.
Apple promptly banned Epic Games from its App Store. Epic countered with a #FreeFortnite campaign that mocked an iconic Apple advert from the 1980s. It argues that Apple runs a monopoly with its App Store, which puts smaller app developers at a disadvantage, especially compared with Apple’s own apps that can avoid the fee.
Although this may sound like a classic case of David versus Goliath, with a challenge to the power of a dominant tech company, it is a lot more complicated than that.
Epic Games isn’t a small developer, but a $29 billion company. And while Apple is a trillion-dollar tech company, it also wants to be recognised as a champion of privacy and fiercely opposes some of the industry’s most controversial practices.
The US federal court will have to answer two key questions: is Apple running a monopoly with its App Store? And should it be allowed to take a 30 per cent revenue cut of every App Store purchase?