Apple’s developer ecosystem has finally had enough.(and apparently Google’s too?)
Late last week Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite and Unreal engine got into a fight with Apple and Google over Fortnite’s mobile versions allowing users to directly pay for more in-game currency, without the need for any of Google or Apple’s in-app purchasing facilities. The move got Fortnite banned from both the iOS App Store and Google’s Play Store, but it’s especially with the former that Epic had prepared an onslaught for, suing Apple just hours later , parodying their famous 1984 advert to make Apple the villain in their own Fortnite version of it, then rallying the tech press, Fortnite fans(including kids) and most importantly, other developers, big and small, that are seemingly sick of Apple’s stringent App Store policies and commissions models. Simply put, it seems by fighting with Epic games , Apple has started a reckoning moment with many of it’s developers, and it’s one that’s likely to change their App Store for good.
Now if you’ve been following our coverage on Apple for the past few months, you would realize that the company has kind of been in a bad place with it’s developer ecosystem, so much so that it’s caught the attention of U.S. Congress and was a big talking point of the tech company hearing a few weeks ago. Apple’s debacle with company Basecamp over the app Hey is an easy example of why the company is in a bad light. In the case of Hey, they were threatening to take the app off the App Store and block it from any further updates unless Basecamp would implement a payment model that used Apple’s in-app purchasing mechanism, making them gain 30% of all subscriptions for the app, which could otherwise be paid on Basecamp’s website directly as this was not a service exclusive to iOS. What’s interesting is this case was not unique to Hey or Basecamp, and in fact Apple had apparently started a habit of forcing many apps that had other revenue flows to divert them all through the App Store and in-app purchases so Apple could gain money from those as well, and of course all those third party developers didn’t want that. However as iOS is a closed ecosystem where everything is controlled by Apple, especially app distribution, those developers have no choice, and hence this was why despite being the maker and gatekeeper of it’s own devices and their services, Apple was called in front of American Congress to answer for what is essentially monopolistic behavior. Amusingly enough when asked if Apple was a monopoly on iOS , CEO Tim Cook came up with the bonkers answer of saying developers could “develop for Android, Xbox and PlayStation”, which Basecamp CEO went on to mock on on twitter saying they should have made Hey for the PS4 instead. Simply put, Apples developer ecosystem isn’t pleased with the company’s practices anymore, and up until recently they have been looking for someone to put Apple in their place because of all this.
This is where Epic Games and Fortnite come in, because without a doubt Fortnite has become the biggest game on the planet, growing beyond just a fun battle royale game for kids to an all-encompassing pop-culture phenomenon. And Epic has essentially been rolling in cash because of it, making sure Fortnite stays on top through all sorts of deals and it’s move to mobile, and even starting new ventures such as the Epic games store on PCs. Simply put , through Fortnite Epic has essentially become a king in it’s own right, and hence when they challenged Apple last week, all the third party developers with issues against Apple all decided to rise up and be vocal again in support of Epic. Amusingly, among these are Microsoft and Google, whose game-streaming services XCloud and Google Stadia respectively were removed from Apple’s app store because of Apple’s policies essentially demanding not only the 30% cut, but also demanding that Apple be able to review each game on each game-streaming platform one by one, in case they decide to ban some of them, which of course neither Microsoft or Google were up for. So now even Microsoft’s expressing it’s disdain for Apple’s policies and so is Facebook, who essentially came out of nowhere saying they hate how bad the Facebook Gaming app is on iOS but that’s because of Apple’s policies as well. And this is without considering how Epic essentially started this fight in movie-like fashion because it new it would draw up so much attention. The company baited Apple in a fashion similar to what you would find on TV shows Suits or Billions knowing they had a whole plan of attack once Apple reacted. This is maybe why Google banned Fortnite too, despite knowing it might draw them some ire. What Epic did wasn’t exactly right, and the company isn’t exactly squeaky clean in the industry either (just look at all the chaos the Epic Games Store is causing on PC), but at this rate no one cares because even if they’re an “anti-hero” in this case, they’re the anti-hero that everyone needs as no one wants to put up with Apple anymore. Add in the leagues of Fortnite fans, many who are kids for that matter, who are essentially being radicalized into believing Apple is the bad guy, and in a time where U.S congress, troves of developers big and small , and now the general public are beginning to view Apple as a large , dictating tyrant, that’s the last thing the company needs.
So what happens now? Well for starters, Apple, Google and Epic go to the courts. In fact you can even see the links to both Epic’s Lawsuits for Apple and Google here . And just to divert to Google for a moment here, most people thought the company wouldn’t get involved or ban Fortnite from the Play Store, but it seems Google themselves felt they had to stick to their guns as well, though almost everyone is expecting that they’re likely the ones who might back down first. And this is because both Epic’s lawsuits are especially targeted for each of the companies, with Apple’s specifically pointing out how it’s locked-in ecosystem makes it near impossible for users to switch from their devices while also making it harder and harder for developers to make as much money from a company that honestly has enough of it. Google’s lawsuit meanwhile brings up how despite Android allowing side-loading of apps and alternate app stores, it’s essentially designed to revolve around the play store hence why no one favors Amazon’s Fire Store or Samsung’s Galaxy Store over the Play Store. Hence, both these companies are in for a big fight, and one which Epic will likely publicize as much as possible, much to the chagrin of Apple again. This might be a fight that might take a while, as court battles among tech companies tend to. But with the noise around it, and again with developers growing more vocal because of it, it means Apple has definitely come to a reckoning with it’s dev ecosystem, and we’ll see how it all pans out in the end.