Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney asked Apple to open up its phones to other app stores back in 2015, according to new emails made public as part of the company’s antitrust lawsuit. Under the subject line “iOS as an open platform,” Sweeney Apple CEO Tim Cook emailed directly to allow other app stores to distribute software on iOS.
“The App Store has done a lot of good for the industry,” Sweeney wrote to Cook, “but it doesn’t seem sustainable for Apple to be the sole arbiter of expression and commerce on an app platform that reaches one billion users.”
In particular, Sweeney asked to “separate iOS App Store management from compliance checking and app distribution,” essentially suggesting that Apple could maintain its security features across the platform without routing all downloads through the central App Store.
It’s a strong distinction for the ongoing trial, in which Apple argues that App Store exclusivity is necessary to maintain existing security and privacy features on iOS. These are part of the compliance process Sweeney refers to in the email, and other ecosystems have managed to implement them across multiple app stores. Recently, Google introduced a similar system on Android under the name Play Protect, which protects against malicious downloads, even from side-loading software.
Cook responded by forwarding the message to Phil Schiller with a question, “Is this the man who attended one of our rehearsals?”
It’s likely he was: Epic had made Games a few weeks earlier a performance at Apple’s WWDC event, praising the company’s work using Apple’s Metal API, although Sweeney did not appear onstage.
Other emails show that Sweeney keeps pushing Apple behind the scenes, asks Epic co-founder Mark Rein to push for a meeting with Greg Joswiak in January 2018. “Like the App Store [were] just the best way for consumers to install software and not the only way, would allow Apple to put together higher quality software in general, without acting as a censor for free speech, ”argued Sweeney.
Rein was eventually able to arrange a hearing for the idea through Apple’s Tim Kirby and showed enthusiasm. “He was absolutely receptive to the idea,” Rein wrote, “which doesn’t mean it will go anywhere, but it does put in place people who will listen and not shoot it like Phil Schiller would … so maybe it is. there is a tiniest crack on the outer surface of the many feet of ice covering the frozen lake of the Apple Store.
Six years later, the ice has yet to thaw.