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Epic CEO will fight Apple to the bitter end over App Store control

Credit: Epic Games

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney has vowed to continue the battle against Apple's App Store fees, and won't stop until he forces Tim Cook to allow iPhone and iPad app distribution outside of the app store.

In a new interview with The Verge, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney explains why he believes Apple and Google have too much control over the internet.

Epic has long been critical of Apple, with Sweeney claiming that Apple's 30% App Store tax is an "absolute monopoly."

In the interview, Sweeney compares Apple's control of the App Store to railroad monopolies in the past.

"Yes, Apple built the iPhone hardware and they designed iOS, and they deserve to earn a fantastic return by selling their devices with their operating system, as did the railroads deserve to earn a fantastic return by profiting from selling railroad tickets and transportation services," he tells The Verge.

"But what they cannot do under the law, and under any principle of fair competition, is Apple cannot use its control over the hardware and operating system to impose trade restraints on related markets," he continues. "Apple prevents other companies from establishing competing stores on iOS. That's similar to the railroads blocking the oil refineries from shipping their products on the railroad in order to take over those related industries."

He worries that Apple's monopoly is "strangling the digital economy," not just for the app market, but for the music and TV market as well.

Epic's own ongoing fight with Apple kicked off in 2020, when Epic allowed Fortnite players to purchase V-bucks directly, rather than using Apple's payment system.

Unsurprisingly, Apple responded by pulling Fortnite from the App Store.

Apple has argued that its commission fee goes to maintaining the App Store's high standards and protecting users from being fraudulently charged by developers.

The 30% commission fee, which Apple has lowered to 15% for developers making less than $1 million in net annual sales on its platform and for subscriptions that run over a year, is industry standard.

But it isn't just money that Sweeney is worried about. He also argues that by requiring users to get apps exclusively from the App Store, Apple limits the free speech of both developers and users.

"I think it's incredibly dangerous to allow the world's most powerful corporation to decide who is allowed to say what," says Sweeney. He warns that it's something every politician should fear.

Sweeney is referencing Twitter CEO Elon Musk's allegations that Apple was planning to pull Twitter from the App Store. However, Musk has since walked back that stance, having now publicly said that Apple never considered removing the app.

Sweeney explains that he wants to see app distribution opened up, allowing customers to download apps directly from developers' websites. He also wants to ensure that Apple cannot earn a commission from any revenue generated by apps after the initial purchase price from the App Store.

"[W]hat we're asking for is how this should have been, how the iPhone should have been established when it was first released," Sweeney said. "That is how all platforms, all general computing platforms, should operate. It's how Windows operates, it's how macOS operates, and this should just be an established foundational piece."

Prior to Apple's App Store for iPhone, most software was sold in retail stores, often with a fraction well less than 30% paid out to the developer. Obviously, the retail landscape has changed since then — but mostly because platforms like the App Store and Steam changed it.

"And so Epic is not conducting any sort of elaborate negotiation here. We are simply going to fight as long as it takes to get to what we're asking for," exclaimed Sweeney. "And if Apple would settle for that, we would settle it today."

Sweeney has made it clear that he'll fight Apple all the way to the Supreme Court, if need be, to achieve victory at any cost. He notes that the process is "painful and expensive," but also "absolutely necessary."