By Stephen Nellis
(Reuters) – Apple Inc Chief Executive Tim Cook on Friday will take the witness stand to defend the App Store, a booming part of the iPhone maker’s business that “Fortnite” maker Epic Games says is a monopoly that Apple abuses.
Cook is expected to spend more than two hours making what are likely to be his most extensive public remarks on the App Store business, which anchors Apple’s $53.8 billion services business.
Epic has waged a public relations and legal campaign, arguing that Apple acts anticompetitively by only allowing apps it approves on the world’s 1 billion iPhones and by forcing developers to use Apple’s in-app payment system, which charges commissions of up to 30% on sales.
The antitrust trial at a federal courthouse in Oakland, California comes as Apple faces a chorus of criticism from app makers including music service Spotify Technology and U.S. politicians who say the most valuable public company in the United States tries to squash small competition.
The maker of “Fortnite,” which pits players against in each other in an animated “Battle Royale” fight to the last survivor, is led by CEO Tim Sweeney, who has reveled in the public opportunity to take on Apple.
Sweeney kicked off the trial as Epic’s first witness, using his time on the stand to argue that “Fortnite” has become a place for players to gather in a virtual world he calls the “metaverse” and that Apple is unfairly demanding an outsized cut of profits for providing simple payment processing technology.
Cook fielded a handful of questions about the company’s App Store when he testified before U.S. lawmakers last year, but he otherwise stayed mostly silent as lawmakers grilled the chiefs of Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc.
Apple attorneys said they plan to ask him to testify about Apple’s corporate values, how the App Store came about and Apple’s competitive landscape. Throughout the trial, Apple has sought to persuade Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers that whatever rules it imposes on developers are aimed at keeping its customers‘ information private and safe from malware.
But Epic’s legal team has put other Apple executives under pressure during the three-week trial. During a cross-examination Thursday, Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi lashed out at one of Epic’s attorneys who did not allow Federighi to explain the technical details of why Apple does not use automated tools to scan for some offensive content. Judge Gonzalez Rogers intervened to tell Federighi he would have to wait to explain himself later, when Apple’s lawyers resumed questions.
Competition authorities in multiple countries have opened probes into the business, including a case in the European Union around Apple’s treatment of Spotify.
In United States, lawmakers such as Senator Amy Klobuchar who are contemplating new antitrust laws are likely to comb through the records generated in the Epic case.
“This case has always been part of a bigger narrative rather than something that’s going to decide the issue on its own,” said John Bergmayer, legal director at consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge.
(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; editing by Peter Henderson and Richard Pullin)