Apple was once the world’s most beloved technology company. They made gadgets that everybody adored, they were miles ahead of all of their rivals, and they could do no wrong. Everybody wanted an iPod and an iPhone when the gadgets were brand new. When the iPad came along, everybody went crazy for those, too. Steve Jobs was the world’s most likeable billionaire, and the general consensus was that Apple represented a younger, cooler version of Microsoft with better ethics. Those days are long gone now.
Tragically, Steve Jobs is no longer at the helm of the enormous multinational corporation he helped to found. The company’s direction has changed dramatically since he passed away, and public perception of the company has changed, too. For most of the past twelve months, Apple has found itself under fire from what must feel like every direction. Public spats with high-profile opponents have turned into courtroom battles. The last thing Apple needs at the moment is another enormously powerful entity prepared to go toe to toe with them in court, but they’re going to get one anyway. Within the next few days or weeks, we expect to see the European Union file charges against Apple for anti-competitive behaviour.
Receiving legal paperwork with terms like “anti-competitive” writ large upon its pages must feel like Groundhog Day for Apple’s senior executives. It’s the same charge that’s been levelled against them by Epic Games, with Microsoft quietly supporting Epic’s efforts to make the charge stick. That particular battle is all about Apple’s App Store. It’s an argument that goes back more than six months and stems from Apple’s decision to kick Epic’s popular “Fortnite” video game off the App Store for breaches of the App Store’s terms and conditions. Epic’s objection is that Apple insists on a thirty per cent cut of anything made by any app listed in its store but won’t allow customers to download apps onto their devices via any other method. Epic says that Apple has thereby created a monopoly and forces app developers to give Apple a disproportionately large share of revenue to remain part of it. Apple denies that charge.
The fact of that particular matter is that while thirty per cent might sound like a lot, it isn’t drastically different from what Google charges for app developers to have access to its equivalent service, the Play Store, for Android devices. The difference is that Google doesn’t block Android devices from being able to download apps from elsewhere. We’ve heard this scenario compared to online casino sites, which work in a similar fashion. A modern online casino website allows customers to hundreds of online games made by dozens of different providers through one access portal, using one account and one payment method. Because of the plethora of games and offers, review sites such as sistersite.co.uk are essential to guide players to their perfect site. Google is almighty but it’s not very good at organising online casinos like a review site does.
We don’t yet know how Epic’s lawsuit with Apple will turn out. Even though the bitter public battle between the two companies has been going on for months, the legal aspect of it is only now preparing to get started. The trial is set to begin in the United States of America next month and ought to be quite a spectacle. Both sides have recently confirmed the names of the people that they’ll be calling as expert witnesses, with heavyweights lined up on both sides. The trial will generate headlines all over the world, but a head-to-head battle might create even more negative headlines. It could also have enormous ramifications in terms of Apple’s business interests in European Union countries.
As is the case with Epic Games, the EU’s displeasure with Apple stems from the way the company’s App Store operates. Margrethe Vestager, who’s in charge of the political bloc’s business competition rules, believes Apple has broken the law of the European Union. The Epic lawsuit is referenced in the paperwork, as is a similar complaint that was brought by Spotify two years earlier. Vestager has referred to Apple as “a gatekeeper.” Apple has not, at the time of writing, responded to the specifics of the EU complaint but did respond to Spotify two years ago. Apple accused Spotify of wanting to benefit from Apple’s marketplace without contributing to it. Spotify declined to file an independent lawsuit, and so the dispute seemed to end there. Now it’s been revived at the worst possible time for the tech company.
Assuming the EU lawsuit goes ahead, it will represent the highest-profile antitrust lawsuit raised in Europe against an American company in living memory. It might also get worse from here. Separately to the antitrust charge, the EU is also investigating claims that Apple promotes its own products over those of its rivals on the App Store. That would be a separate breach of European Union law and could conceivably lead to another lawsuit. Even if Apple wins these lawsuits, the cost of contesting them will be high, and the cost of the associated negative publicity might be even higher. If they lose, things will be even worse. The EU has the power to fine Apple up to ten per cent of its global revenue. A figure like that would be devastating even to a company with Apple’s financial resources.
No matter what the verdict in these trials is, the losing side will appeal and then appeal again if necessary. In all likelihood, these cases could run for years. Winning might not be the EU’s aim. It’s more likely that the EU is trying to force Apple to change the terms of conditions of its App Store for citizens of the European Union. If the company does so, it will immediately face pressure to change its terms for the rest of the world. It looks like there’s enormous pain to come for Apple in the very near future, and the EU might be one of its chief tormentors.