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Apple holds edge in app store trial despite nagging issues

by Mary Sewell

SAN RAMON, Calif. — Apple seems to be prevailing in an antitrust trial examining whether its mobile app store illegally skims profits from smaller companies. But the tech giant’s apparent edge comes at the cost of facing nagging questions about the financial vise it holds on people buying digital services on iPhones, iPads, and iPods. If nothing else, the skirmish has sharpened the focus on the exclusive payment system that Apple has built into transactions occurring within apps installed on its family of mobile devices.

Apple AFP Gettyjpg

Apple has collected a 15% to 30% commission on those in-app purchases for the past 13 years, fueling a moneymaking machine that has helped the company increase its market value from about $150 billion in 2008 to more than $2 trillion today. Those apps avoid a commission when customers pay for their services through other options, such as a web browser. But Apple forbids apps from posting any links or making any other suggestions that steer people toward those other alternatives. The anti-steering provision prompted Epic Games.

The popular video game Fortnite maker sued Apple last year and set the stage for the trial now approaching the end of its second week in an Oakland, California, courtroom. To prevail, Epic will have to persuade U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers that Apple’s app store has become a monopoly that has enabled Cupertino, California, to engage in price gouging. That argument will likely require Gonzalez Rogers to embrace Epic’s contention that the iPhone’s software and the app store are large enough to represent a market by themselves.

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