If you weren’t watching tech news yesterday, you’d have been stuffing handfuls of popcorn into your mouth all afternoon, staring wide-eyed at the screen wondering what madness was coming. It was a day. Epic has pushed both Apple and Google to ban Fortnite from their respective app stores and did so with a full game plan in mind – including an in-game anti-Apple video event and two very public lawsuits.
In addition to Epic, as of this week I have a lot of tech topics that I haven’t been able to address as I’ve been working on our review and video for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – let me know if you have any questions you’d like to see addressed in there.
But before we get to the Battle Royale between these three companies, I can’t be quick to talk about the Microsoft Duo. Holy wow that phone / not-a-phone looks really interesting, but also looks like it’s overpriced and underpowered. I’m definitely on team “specs don’t tell the whole story”, but I’m also on team “better specs are a safer bet, especially if the thing costs $ 1399.” Long story short, I love the idea of foldable devices, but the burden of proof is on Microsoft on this one. I absolutely can’t wait to review it.
We will have many analyzes that go much deeper into everything Fortnite On The edge today. Expect a lengthy discussion on The Vergecast and articles from reporters about our tech and game crews. We’ve got a page where you can also see all the updates – everything you need to know about Epic’s battle against mobile app stores.
As far as I am concerned, I am just going to give you a short and very incomplete timeline of some of the relevant app store dramas that got us to the point where the main gaming company in the world made a video parody of Apple’s famous 1984 Superbowl commercial . I’ll start … sooner than you might expect.
January 22, 1984: the national Super Bowl broadcast of Apple’s famous Macintosh ad. It was a stunning, hugely influential ad. It was directed by Ridley Scott and told the story of a revolutionary upstart who would break the totalitarian rule of the monopolistic behemoth that dominated the industry.
June 2016Apple made a very slight change to its App Store rules to reduce the discount on subscription apps from 30 percent to 15 percent after their first year. It was a time when Apple finally began to relax, if only slightly, on the lines that give it 30 percent on everything in the store.
August 3, 2018: Epic took Fortnite from the Google Play Store because it was angry that Google had gotten that same 30 percent discount. Epic has been able to do this primarily because, unlike iOS, Android allows people to install apps directly from any source. You just have to click “OK” on some relatively intimidating security warnings.
January 17, 2020: The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing in Colorado on how big tech treats smaller businesses in its orbit. Short answer: it is often a “shakedown”. Sonos (which Google is suing), PopSockets, Tile and Basecamp all testify to being kicked out by Apple in various ways.
April 3, 2020: We found out that Apple had given Amazon a special deal that allowed it to do things that other developers couldn’t. Apple claimed it was “an established program,” but we’ve all seen it: Amazon got a deal because Amazon had leverage.
April 21, 2020: Fortnite back to the Google Play Store. Turns out all those warnings about third-party apps (and perhaps the lack of easy discovery) were too big of a deal for Epic. Epic’s CEO, Tim Sweeney, was quite blunt about how unhappy he was that his app had to come back.
June 16, 2020: Basecamp’s new email app, Hey, was turned down from the Apple App Store because it didn’t offer a way to sign up directly on the iPhone – mostly because it doesn’t have to pay an Apple fee. Just a week later (just in time to avoid ruining Apple’s developer conference), a compromise was reached: Hey offered some sort of minimum functionality that would allow it to sneak into the App Store.
July 29, 2020: The Judicial Commission reconvened and called the CEOs of Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook via video conference. It went better than expected, if only because the committee showed some technical knowledge. Yet it has not created lasting moments. In particular, Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai were not put under any meaningful pressure on App Store issues.
August 6, 2020: Apple reiterated its policy regarding streaming game platforms: not allowed. Microsoft, Google, and Facebook all want to offer their streaming game services to iPhone users, but Apple insists on getting a discount on digital purchases and that it has the ability to instantly rate and list any game. Microsoft and Facebook have condemned the policy.
Okay, that’s a lot of history. Believe me when I tell you it’s very incomplete – there’s a whole different Spotify timeline, European Union timeline, and Android timeline we could do here. Regardless, from this incomplete timeline, here are the main points to remember as we process yesterday’s jokes.
- First, there is much grief associated with Apple’s monopoly on app distribution on the iPhone, and anger at both Apple and Google over their 30 percent cut. Developers see an opportunity to cut back.
- There’s also a general decline in confidence and confidence in big tech (duh).
- Finally, there is growing interest from regulators to enforce a number of antitrust laws.
… And now, welcome to August 13, 2020. I assure you that all of the events below took place in one single day.
┏ Epic offers new direct payment in Fortnite on iOS and Android to bypass app store fees. Epic immediately pushed a server-side update to its app that was not reviewed by Apple or Google. That’s no-no number one. No-no number two, however, is the big one: offering instant payments without cutting back on Apple or Google.
You can already see the seeds of what is to come here. The move was blatantly clear, and it was also intended to gain favor with users, by showcasing the new options at a 20 percent discount. (Interestingly, that’s not 30 percent, but there are also credit card charges and other issues that could explain this discrepancy. If you argue about it, it misses the point.)
┏ Apple just kicked Fortnite out of the App Store. Apple stuck to its guns. Fortnite broke the rules, Fortnite is off.
┏ Epic will mock Apple’s most iconic ad as possible revenge for Fortnite’s App Store ban. It becomes clear that the original direct payment option has always been a setup. Epic plans to make it a big deal and help its fans for the cause.
to be clear, I’m pretty sure no one was surprised by this step. I’m sure, before making the decision to kick the app from the store, Apple knew Epic would do such a thing.
┏ Epic Games is suing Apple. But did Apple know Epic was going to sue? Who knows? There are two things to note about Epic’s lawsuit:
- It starts with very readable, very passionate language about how Apple used to be good, but now it’s bad.
- It positions its antitrust argument very carefully, saying that Apple has a monopoly on iOS distribution, not all smartphones. The antitrust arguments for any major tech company usually depend on a question of ‘market definition’.
┏ Microsoft releases Surface Duo press event video with 30 minutes of demos. Yep, okay, this has nothing to do with anything else, but it’s worth a look. I like gadgets, what can I say?
┏ Check out Epic’s Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite short spot with Apple here. I cannot begin to express how useful this video is. It reflects Apple’s famous anti-IBM advertising shot by shot. It re-contextualizes Apple like the bully. It … tells the story of a revolutionary upstart who is going to break the totalitarian rule of the monopolistic colossus that dominates industry.
┏ Epic gathers Fortnite players against Apple with the warning that they will miss the next season. Of course there is a hashtag. But there are also real and immediate commitment. Apple and Google are prohibited Fortnite from their stores, but they still work on any device they are already installed on. So some users might shrug on this like a fight that’s over before it hits them. Epic makes even those people realize this is a problem for them.
┏ Fortnite for Android has also been kicked out of the Google Play Store. I have to be honest, I expected Google to just figure this out and let Epic break the rules for a day or two. No. Late in the day, Google was trading. It also pointed out that there are other ways you can install apps on Android. Not only load sideways, but also through other stores.
Do you know how Microsoft was happy that Apple existed at the time, because Microsoft could then say it was not a total monopoly? That’s exactly the atmosphere I get when Google talks about the Samsung Galaxy App Store.
Footnote! Both Epic and Microsoft point users to Samsung’s store. That’s because they can apparently get their in-app purchases in without paying a 30 percent fee. What fee do they pay Samsung? Unclear – and Samsung did not return a request for comment.
┏ Epic is suing Google for removing Fortnite from the Google Play Store. Epic also had a lawsuit pending before Google, but no video parody. Of course, it followed the same script as the Apple lawsuit. Google used to have the motto “don’t be mad,” you see.
┏ Google forced OnePlus to decimate a Fortnite launcher deal, Epic Games claims. A nice touch in the Google lawsuit: we have another example of Google putting pressure on companies that might not want to put Google’s services right on their phones. This may seem like a minor thing, but it comes very close to the practice that caused the EU to slap a huge fine on Google and force it to use a browser ballot on Android.
What have we learned? As I write tonight, I have a few very preliminary thoughts:
- Apple and Google don’t want to be pushed around by anyone, not even the main game company today.
- Apple and Google are so fabulously rich and powerful that they may be just too big to be pushed anyway.
- Like him or not, you have to admit that Epic CEO Tim Sweeney certainly knows how to put on a show. No wonder Fortnite is so popular.
- Opposition to app stores is real and growing.
- Apple has largely managed not to be seen as a bully, but that perception could change. Really, that’s one of Epic’s main goals here.
- I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’d be very surprised if Apple shrinks back first.
- One of Epic’s intended audiences – arguably the most important – is the regulators looking into potential antitrust actions. There is plenty of food here for them if they want it.
Disclosure: My wife is working on the Oculus store, including setting policies for that store. I refrain from reporting on Oculus, VR and Facebook so I am not familiar with Oculus policies. Here is my ethical statement.