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Apple won't be appy: US Supremes give green light to massive lawsuit over App Store prices
Legal action over 30% cut iGiant takes from software sales allowed to continue
Well now, the bigger question is: what does Apple – and Google – actually do if the plaintiffs win the case?
It's fair to say that the real problem isn't so much that Apple charges a commission but that it charges a massive 30 per cent. If it was charging 10 per cent, this would likely never have become an issue. But if the case progresses through to trial and the plaintiffs win, a reduction option effectively disappears.
That potential massive loss in revenue is perhaps behind the six percent drop in Apple's share price this morning, though we note US tech stocks in general are down today because someone's been tweeting again.
Let's not forget that Apple does actually provide a useful service with its App Store: it screens software for malware and unpleasantness (although it occasionally abuses that approval power to its own benefit). It also provides consumers with an extremely simple and easy payment service. A scenario where every time you want to buy an app you have to go a different third-party payment processor and re-input your details is going to frustrate consumers who have grown used to instant downloads.
Apple could of course be forced to open up its payment processing to competition and app developers would be able to choose which one to go with. That could end up benefiting everyone – well, everyone except Apple.
Time is on our side
But it's taken eight years for the case to get to this point and the lawsuit is still in its early stages with a myriad other legal hurdles to jump in the lower courts before it gets decided. Apple will happily spend some of the billions of dollars it makes through the current system on lawyers in an effort to stretch the case out for another eight years, especially since the legal action as currently structured seeks antitrust-grade triple damages.
Or Apple could go against its control-freak corporate culture and adopt a Google-style semi-open approach where it has an app store but people can also download apps independently through a third-party website. But Apple would likely only consider that approach if it felt it was going to lose the case – and by that point, it would probably be too late.
The best example of the strange app market dynamics came when the makers of mega-game Fortnite, Epic, decided not to launch its game app through the Google Play store because it didn't want to pay the 30 per cent tax. It pointed Android users to its website instead. But thanks to Apple's complete control of its mobile operating platform, Epic did launch Fortnite through Apple's App Store. It had no other choice if it wanted the game on people's iPhones and iPads.
Whatever happens, it has the potential to get very messy. One of Apple's arguments to the Supreme Court was effectively that a decision against it would create such a clusterfuck of claims that it wasn't in anyone's interests to move forward. The court's decision today brushed that aside as largely irrelevant given the bigger issue of whether users can sue at all.
But the mess of figuring out who can claim what, and how much, for what app in what timeframe when you are talking about tens of thousands of companies and millions of customers is not something that anyone really wants to contemplate right now. ®