San Francisco Chronicle

Apple faces attack in app store trial

- By Michael Liedtke Michael Liedtke is an Associated Press writer.

Apple’s lucrative app store was alternatel­y portrayed as a pricegougi­ng monopoly and a hub of worldchang­ing innovation during the preamble to a trial that may reshape the technologi­cal landscape.

The contrastin­g portraits were drawn on Monday as lawyers for Apple and its foe, Epic Games, outlined their cases in an Oakland federal court before U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who will decide the case.

While Apple depicted its app store as an invaluable service beloved by consumers and developers alike, Epic Games attacked it as a breakthrou­gh idea that has morphed into an instrument of financial exploitati­on that illegally locks out competitio­n.

The trial, expected to last most of this month, revolves around the 15% to 30% commission that Apple charges for subscripti­ons and purchases made from apps downloaded from its store — the only one accessible on the iPhone, iPad and iPod.

Epic, the maker of the popular Fortnite video game, laid out evidence drawn mostly from Apple’s internal documents in an attempt to prove the company has built a digital “walled garden” during the past 13 years as part of a strategy crafted by its late cofounder, Steve Jobs. The formula, Epic contends, is designed to make it as difficult as possible for consumers to stop buying its products and services.

“The most prevalent flower in the walled garden is the Venus fly trap,” said Epic lawyer Katherine Forrest. Later, Forrest highlighte­d expert testimony that will be submitted during the trial that estimated Apple reaped profit margins of 75% to 78% during 2018 and 2019, even though Jobs publicly said the company didn’t expect to make large sums of money from the app store when it opened in 2008.

The app store is now an integral piece of a services division that generated nearly $17 billion in revenue during the first three months of this year alone.

Apple brushed off Epic’s arguments as a case brimming with unfounded allegation­s made by a company that wants to get rid of the app store commission to increase its own profits while freeloadin­g off an iPhone ecosystem that has cost more than $100 billion to build.

Karen Dunn, Apple’s attorney, pointed to Epic’s internal documents outlining a strategy called “Project Liberty” that paved a way for Fortnite to purposeful­ly breach its app store contract last summer and set up a showdown over the fees.

“Rather than investing in innovation, Epic invested in lawyers, PR and policy consultant­s in an effort to get all of the benefits Apple provides without paying,” Dunn said.

In sworn testimony, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney acknowledg­ed that the company is trying to increase its current annual revenue of about $5.1 billion through its own app store. The Epic store, which is currently banned from the iPhone and other Apple products, charges a 12% commission on inapp transactio­ns. That model isn’t profitable yet, Sweeney said, but he predicted the Epic store will start making money during the next three or four years.

“Epic is solely seeking changes to Apple’s future behavior,” Sweeney testified, so the company won’t have to pay higher commission­s and still be able to offer Fortnite and other games on the iPhone. Apple ousted Fortnite from its app store last August after Epic tried to use its own payment system.

Apple CEO Tim Cook — Jobs’ handpicked successor — will testify during the trial, too, but his appearance isn’t expected until near the end of a courtroom drama that will unfold before only a handful of maskwearin­g people being allowed inside each day because of pandemic restrictio­ns.

 ?? Noah Berger / Associated Press ?? Phil Schiller, an Apple executive, in Oakland to attend a federal court case brought by competitor Epic Games.
Noah Berger / Associated Press Phil Schiller, an Apple executive, in Oakland to attend a federal court case brought by competitor Epic Games.

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