By Natalie DeCoste
The high-profile antitrust battle between Epic Games and Apple over Apple’s App Store policies has drawn to a close as both sides gave closing arguments on Monday.
In August of 2020, Epic sued Apple and accused the tech giant of engaging in monopolistic behaviors when Apple pulled Epic’s game Fortnite from its App Store. Apple had removed Fortnite after Epic added a direct payment option to the app to circumvent the 30% cut that Apple takes from all digital transactions.
Epic asked the presiding judge, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, to issue an injunction against Apple that requires the company to change its business model. The change would make it so that app developers can get their apps onto iPhones using third-party app stores, effectively circumventing Apple’s 30% fee.
Much of the battle between Apple and Epic focused on how the court should define the market relevant to the case. Lawyers for Epic argued that the market in question should be defined narrowly as app distribution. Meanwhile, Apple claimed there is no separate market for app distribution because it has never separately licensed iOS or its App Store.
If the court sides with Apple’s definition, it would concede that Apple faces significant competition in the market from the likes of Android. Despite the monopoly claims against it, Apple has been adamant that it has competition both for its iPhones and other platforms to play games. Additionally, Apple claimed the App Store’s policies do not diminish developments in the software market but have led to a boom in the software industry, resulting in greater safety and security for users.
Apple spent the final day of the trial arguing that Epic’s antitrust lawsuit was merely a way for the company to get out of paying for access to iPhone users. The company stayed true to its overall message that Apple controls the App Store because any alternative would be a security and privacy problem.
During closing arguments, Richard Doren, a lawyer for Apple, warned the court of “mayhem” if Apple’s review process is not required.
The closing arguments for the trial were unusual, as Judge Gonzales Rogers had asked the two sides to prepare for a debate-style end to the trial. The new style allowed Judge Gonzales Rogers to ask questions to both sides.
One of her questions was about Epic’s proposed injunction.
“One of the issues that has concerned me throughout the course of this trial is that your client doesn’t seem to be interested in paying for the access to customers who use iOS,” she said, adding that Epic is “attacking the fundamental way in which Apple is generating revenue.”
Judge Gonzales Rogers also pointed out that the injunction may create more harm to consumers than benefits. The judge noted that people are generally aware of Apple’s tightly regulated App Store ecosystem and choose it on purpose. Additionally, the cost of apps in Google’s store was roughly the same as those on the App Store, countering claims of added financial benefits.
Apple CEO Tim Cook also participated in the final arguments on Monday and faced questions from Judge Gonzales Rogers.
“I understand this notion that somehow Apple brings the customer to the gamers, the users, but after that first time, after that first interaction…the developers are keeping their customers, Apple is just profiting off that,” she said.
Cook disagreed, pointing to the fact that Apple’s App Store, being the company’s intellectual property, benefits game developers by generating traffic.
The judge also pushed Cook on the number of options available to consumers and how Apple’s business model may limit choices.
“I think they have a choice today. They have a choice between many different Android models of a smartphone or an iPhone, and that iPhone has a certain set of principles behind it in safety, security, and privacy,” Cook responded.
With 4,500 pages of testimony to review, Judge Gonzales Rogers said she hopes to issue her decision in the coming weeks or months. The judge joked that the decision might come out Aug. 13, a reference to the date that Epic initially attempted to circumvent Apple’s 30% commission.