back to article Apple hauled into US Supreme Court over, no, not ebooks, patents, staff wages, keyboards... but its App Store

The US Supreme Court will scrutinize an antitrust lawsuit against Apple, opening the door for the computing giant to escape censure over its app store policies and potentially millions of dollars in claims. The lawsuit claims that Apple – which has had its fair share of legal challenges from alleged wage fixing to defective …

  1. Velv Silver badge
    Gimp

    The developer is required to grant Apple sole sales rights. The developer cannot sell their application through any other channel (or even give it away). The customer is therefore unable to purchase directly from the developer, they must purchase from Apple. Apple is the seller.

    1. danR2

      Apple is the seller.

      When you buy the app, do you get the impression you are sending the money to the app-maker? I certainly do. I do not feel I'm sending it to Apple, but that they are doing an agenty/commissioney sort of thing. Same with Playstore (I have Apple and Android devices).

      1. ratfox Silver badge

        Really? You are on the App store, owned and controlled by Apple, and there is no way you can buy anything from the app-maker except through Apple. When I am buying on the Playstore, I certainly feel I am buying from Google.

        In fact, I am not entirely sure that app makers even know my name. Most of the time, I expect they just receive their percentage payment from Apple and they have no idea who has installed their apps.

        1. danR2

          "...and there is no way you can buy anything from the app-maker except through Apple."

          through Apple

          See, the preposition used only underscores my gut-feeling, at least for me. Apple is the conduit through which I shove my money down to the app-maker. It's app-maker I sense whom I am paying. Apple steals some of that cash on the way down, but I have no sense that I'm paying them.

          At that abstract moment of transaction, I get the app and the developer gets my dough. That it's Apple's store, and they take their skim doesn't alter that perception. The Court will surely hear 'arguments' about this, and their judgement may well taken into account such arguments. And, experiences may differ. That's mine, maybe Apple will be unfortunate and nobody shares it.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          You are correct, developers do not receive any details about someone buying their app, other than it has happened and the country it happened in. There is no contract between the developer and the purchaser. The sale is between the buyer and iTunes.

    2. bschollnick

      That's not how apple store works...

      > The developer is required to grant Apple sole sales rights. The developer cannot sell their application

      > through any other channel (or even give it away). The customer is therefore unable to purchase directly

      > from the developer, they must purchase from Apple. Apple is the seller.

      I'm sorry, but that's not correct.

      You can have your application in other app stores. For example, Evernote is in the Android store, etc. But if it's a paid application, the price has to be the same across stores.

      Now, you might be trying to say, that your IOS application is only available via the Apple Store.

      Sure, I'll agree with that. But, for example, you can have FREE software. Is Apple selling you that?

      Apple is a distributor. When you purchase "Avengers Infinity War" at your local Walmart, are you trying to tell me that Warner Brother's is selling you that DVD / Blu-ray? No you are purchasing it at Walmart.

      Don't you think that Warner Brother's is taking a portion of the sale? (Hint, they are, but they are getting their portion upfront).

      1. Mikerahl

        Re: That's not how apple store works...

        The issue is that Apple specifically prevents alternate software sales options on their platform. Given how much of the tablet market and phone market (and how much of the profitable ends of those markets) Apple controls, it could easily be viewed as antitrust. If Apple wants to make sure it doesn't get harmed by this, it has only to allow any and all other app stores anyone might want to open.

      2. jmch Silver badge

        Re: That's not how apple store works...

        "You can have your application in other app stores. For example, Evernote is in the Android store"

        XApp for iPhone is not the same as XApp for Android. If you want XApp for iPhone, you cannot get it anywhere else.

        "When you purchase "Avengers Infinity War" at your local Walmart, are you trying to tell me that Warner Brother's is selling you that DVD / Blu-ray? No you are purchasing it at Walmart."

        True, because while you could buy the DVD at Walmart you could also get it from a dozen other sources. If you can ONLY get it at Walmart it's essentially just another Walmart store brand and in this case Warner Bros is acting more like a contracted supplier to Walmart than as an independent seller in their own right.

        1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

          Re: That's not how apple store works...

          When you purchase "Avengers Infinity War" at your local Walmart, are you trying to tell me that Warner Brother's is selling you that DVD / Blu-ray? No you are purchasing it at Walmart.

          Surely that is an argument in favour of it being sold BY Apple. Apple is Walmart, in this case, and the developer is Warner Bros.

          As things stand in the UK (I don't know about the US), if you buy something from a high street store, your contract of sale is with the store. That store has bought it from the supplier. If the item does not work, for instance, you go back to the store and they deal with the problem.

          I would say that the same should hold true for the App Store(s): You buy the software/license/whatever from Apple, who have (effectively) bought it from the developer while keeping their cut.

        2. 2Nick3 Bronze badge

          Re: That's not how apple store works...

          "If you can ONLY get it at Walmart it's essentially just another Walmart store brand..."

          There are frequently special editions of music and movies only distributed through certain stores. And PC's/laptops, for that matter.

          However that is crossing into physical goods - I can't put my hand on an iPhone app, where I can touch a CD/DVD/computer. Apple holds no inventory of the app, and they can't run out.

          Personally I wouldn't use an alternate Store for my i-Devices. I like the fact the apps are vetted by Apple, and I have a single location to go for updates. I know that's not for everyone, but it works for me.

  2. DreamEater

    Not always good...

    I wonder if this will allow people to have sub par apps that slurp details without being vetted by Apple.

    A bit like google does, not saying Apple are amazing, but in my opinion there does seem to be a big difference in the amount of apps that scam. Google is certainly winning that race.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not always good...

      "A bit like google does, not saying Apple are amazing, but in my opinion there does seem to be a big difference in the amount of apps that scam. Google is certainly winning that race."

      I was just about to say the same thing.

      There is a difference between Google's Play Store and Apple's in that most apps on the Apple store cost money, even for similar apps that are "free" on Google's store.

      The BIG problem with "free" apps is that the user pays dearly for the free app by having his/her private details slurpped and/or entire device compromised.

  3. Michael Jarve

    Conflicted feelings...

    On the one hand, Apple's "walled garden" approach to the app store and exclusive delivery method is one of the selling points purchasers of iThings buy into- I know in the case of my mother, after having been crapped on by Microsoft with Windows Phone (Lumia 920), and enduring the Wild West of Android (Samsung Galaxy 4s), she very much appreciates the relative simplicity, continuity, and security of her iPhone. Since she got her iPhone 6, she won't even consider another phone.

    On the other, I'm a geek spoiled for choice on what OS I want to boot up every day, many of which are open-source (and those that I don't are inevitably fired up in VMWare) on a PC I built myself (agonizing over parts selection sometimes for minutes on end), and I'm used to having things done how I want, when I want.

    I wouldn't want MicrIntel saying to me "You can only run these approved programs purchased through the Microsoft Store on the approved OS on approved hardware."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Conflicted feelings...

      on a PC I built myself (agonizing over parts selection sometimes for minutes on end

      Pah! A true enthusiast agonises for so long over every individual component, that by the time they've made their mind up the whole build has been made obsolete. Or at least that's how it works for me.

  4. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ

    "apps that slurp details without being vetted by Apple."

    you mean apps that slurp details that don't slurp share it with appl

  5. redpawn Silver badge

    Monopoly is a Fun Game

    as long as you avoid landing on an Oracle, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Spectrum... Hotel. Bankruptcy will happen to most and moral bankruptcy for the remainder. Trump gets to play too and he is obsessed with "Fairness" so you know you will get an equal shot at winning the game.

  6. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Apple Hauled?

    Other sites are reporting that it was Apple that wanted the USSC to take on the case to reverse a decison against them that was made by the US Ninth Circuit.

    The suit was filed in 2010 and was done because the plaintifs objected to Apple's 30% cut for running a store and that Apple at that time was a monopoly. Back then, they were a bit player in the mobile market so it seems a bit far fetched to say that they are a monopoly. But hey, Lawyers are in the game to make as much dosh for themselves as possible.

    I'd like to see the markups other software stores take. My guess is that it is a lot more than 30%.

    It will be interesting to see if the Google Play store is 'hauled' up if Apple lose after all Android is the dominant platform these days.

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Apple Hauled?

      Most Android phones allow you to side-load apps from elsewhere, and you can install another app store, such as Amazon's.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Apple Hauled?

        Building and then loading your own APK isn't all that hard. I wouldn't own a device that tries to prevent it.

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Apple Hauled?

      "It will be interesting to see if the Google Play store is 'hauled' up if Apple lose after all Android is the dominant platform these days."

      Why would they? The Play Store is not a monopoly in any sense of the word, as there are several alternative app stores as well as the ability to install apps without an app store at all.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Get me...

    ...a bucket of round-cornered popcorn, stat!

  8. whoseyourdaddy

    ugh. Its sooo obvious..

    I'm aware of an app or two that Apple won't consider because they are intended to be offered for free.

    Since apartments don't rent for free in Cupertino, not sure why anyone can complain about 30% considering what Apple gives developers to start with.

    Since my life revolves around an iPhone (with the Qualcomm modem), this is one case I hope they prevail on. We all lose if they don't.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ugh. Its sooo obvious..

      "not sure why anyone can complain about 30% "

      .... would you complain were Apple to add $5 to every appstore sale, or what about $10, $20, $50 .... I'd assume there a point where you'd complain and, to paraphrase the Churchhill story, we've established that there's a monopoly being taken advantage of and your merely haggling over the price

      1. Thomas Wolf

        Re: ugh. Its sooo obvious..

        Apple has been charging the same 30% for a very long time, possibly since the beginning. It’s hard to accuse someone of monopoly abuse when (a) they haven’t raised prices and (b) they arguably don’t have a monopoly to begin with.

        In my opinion, Apple built and owns its app store and has every right to set whatever conditions it wants on the apps being sold there. Apple thinks its restrictions make their products and services more secure and, thus, more valuable to existing and potential customers. Customers and developers have every right to not agree with those conditions and not buy an iPhone or develop software for the app store.

        1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

          Re: ugh. Its sooo obvious..

          Apple built and owns its app store and has every right to set whatever conditions it wants on the apps being sold there

          Yes, but ...

          OK, this is a bit of a strained analogy, but suppose Ford implemented a system whereby when you bought a Ford car, it could only be serviced by Ford, would only accept petrol from a Ford garage, could only use tyres bought from Ford (even though still made by Michelin, Dunlop, etc) - and for good measure, had controls in place that would prevent you using it in certain ways. Basically you have bought the car but Ford effectively controls how you can use it*, what fuel you put in it, what tyres you put on it, etc, etc.

          The same argument applies - if you don't like the policy, don't buy a Ford. But that only works if GM, Toyota, Seat, VW, and all the others haven't done exactly the same thing. In the mobile market there are two main options - Apple and Android (with Google applying similar controls, just more easily worked around).

          * Example. There is an iOS app for doing WiFi surveys, only available if you jailbreak the device because Apple won't permit it in their store. So you have to jump through some pretty tricky hoops to do a basic network function. Similarly, the iPad I have doesn't support me using a bluetooth GPS - it's cpaable of it because there's a third party option to enable the support, again only possible on jailbroken devices. Yes, two specific function where Apple has specifically denied me the option of using MY device (yes, I paid money for it, so it's mine) for what I want to use it for - unless I jailbreak the device which they go to great lengths to try and prevent.

          Oh yes, for good measure - doesn't anyone remember the cases (note the plural) where apps eventually got removed from Apple's App store for doing nefarious things. Apple checks that the App only uses official system calls and stuff like that, but it's unable to police an App "phoning home".

          They also deliberately separate "customers" from "suppliers". For example, if a newspaper wants to sell a subscription to a reader, Apple's way doesn't allow that seller to know who the buyer is. OK, privacy by default - but it removes the option for a buyer-seller relationship. IIRC they went as far as changing the rules to insist on the seller using Apple's process - thus blocking direct sales AND allowing them to pocket 30% as a bonus.

  9. danR2

    My gut feeling about the paying process

    While Apple may be mediating the transaction, my impression is not that I'm paying Apple. I'm paying the developer, yes. Notwithstanding any legal/logical argument about who is getting paid. I do understand Apple is sorta kinda getting a commission. But it's not like I feel I'm paying them for the product.

    1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

      Re: My gut feeling about the paying process

      Just for interest, since I'm not involved anywhere in all this. What/Who does the receipt listed say billed you for your shiny new app?

      1. danR2

        Re: My gut feeling about the paying process

        If that's not a rhetorical question, it doesn't enter my mind at the moment of purchase. I've always felt I was paying the app-maker. There's no argument about this, its not an objective evaluation. It's subjective. And it's possible the SCOTUS will be interested in such questions, as well as legal arguments and precedents.

        1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

          Re: My gut feeling about the paying process

          No, not meant to be rhetorical at all. May go the heart of whatever decision comes from the Supremes. Sometimes, okay, rarely do you find immediate sense in any legal decision. There are times, admittedly few, where it's just this simple.

  10. aks Bronze badge

    I'm waiting for the EU and China to take Apple to court over this.

  11. DougS Silver badge

    Counterexample

    These guys are saying that because Apple has the only app store to buy iOS apps, that Apple is able to charge 30%, but the commission would be lower if there were alternatives.

    Google has the play store, but there are third party app stores for Android apps. Google charges the same 30% commission. If their logic was correct, Google would not be able to charge a 30% commission due to the "competition" from those third party app stores.

    1. Remy Redert

      Re: Counterexample

      No, they're saying that if the Apple App store was not a monopoly, they wouldn't be able to charge 30%.

      Google's Play store very much has a monopoly on Android, there's no competitor big enough to present a significant challenge. Yet. That might still change though.

      1. whoseyourdaddy

        Re: Counterexample

        I can’t help but think how much personal time I would have saved if every computer ecosystem had a walled garden.

        Owning a Google phone, would be too much like my day job.

        I just can’t have random happenings on my fondleslab. I own one too many hammers to fix it with.

    2. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Counterexample

      But although there are more Android phones than iPhones in circulation, Apple sells far more paid-for apps than Google, so maybe they can't charge the 30% commission.

  12. doublelayer Silver badge

    On balance, I have to support apple

    In general, I would like apple to allow a lot of things that they don't. The fact that they have monopoly rights over what can run on their hardware does limit what can be done with them. However, there are two major points that, although I dislike them, I think tilt the balance toward apple.

    First is the point that this applies to pretty much any device. Computers generally allow any software to run on them, but that is the exception, not the rule. There are a lot of devices that have a monopolistic method of allowing things or not. I can't go outside amazon's system for things to run on their echo speakers. I can't decide to install my own software on nest's thermostat. I can't erase my android phone and put something else on it. Of course, I may be able to do these things under some conditions if I go to a lot of effort to break into the system, but that also applies to apple, as I can jailbreak my phone and use any number of appstores. In general, I think precedent says that you can build your system in a way you like. Your customers can break into it on their devices, but you don't need to provide them the means to do it. Frankly, if this argument is accepted, I'd like to see a similar action filed against every android phone maker with locked bootloaders.

    The second reason is a bit less formal, and that is that this is apple's main selling point. They haven't hidden this fact at all. They guarantee that any app in their store passed their vetting process, which could be used against certain apps because apple doesn't like them, sure, but is more likely to be used against apps with real problems. I think there are similar contracts in many places; microsoft's contract of "You must not sell PCs running Linux or we won't sell you windows" comes to mind. For example, if some store came out with a product and sold it there and nowhere else, could it be argued that they have a duty to sell it in other stores?

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: On balance, I have to support apple

      this applies to pretty much any device

      Downvoted you for this shortsighted and dangerous attitude. It's precisely because people accept the "everyone does it so 'so what'" argument that it's been able to prevail.

      As I wrote in an earlier reply - if Ford, GM, Toyota, etc, etc ALL decided to make it so that they could control where you got your car serviced, where you could buy your petrol, where you could buy your (eg) tyres, and where you could drive it (eg, it just won't drive on any "road" not in their database). What then ? According to you that's perfectly OK because "everyone does it". Not for me it's not - "everyone does it" is not a measure of "rightness" !

      In the automotive world, no manufacturer could manage that (not even Tesla !) - YET, too much competition. But I bet we'll see creeping restrictions in the future if it doesn't get stamped on. For reference, this is exactly the sort of complaint that's getting levelled at John Deere - they are busy using DMCA to prevent non-authorised people servicing the tractors they've sold, ie using the software element and the bad law passed for the computer & entertainment industries to control what the farmer does with the tractor that the farmer apparently no longer owns outright*.

      * IMO, one measure of "do I own it outright" is "can I do what I like with it". If the manufacturer retains some controls/restriction then no, I don't own it outright.

  13. Kev99 Bronze badge

    It would be nice if Apple was also forced to stop obsoleting its computers by purposely bricking the boot.efi files on otherwise 64 bit processors.

  14. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    What if Microsoft did this?

    MS had an anti-trust lawsuit filed against them for bundling a free browser. They didn't restrict who could provide software to run under their OS, nor take a commission. OK, so MS are arguably in a more dominant position wrt their OS and market share, but is that a sufficient distinction?

  15. handleoclast Silver badge

    Apple, Aldi and Tesco

    If I go to Aldi, there are a few big-brand products but most of them are brands nobody but an Aldi shopper has ever heard of, such as "Vitacat." Somewhere on the label of each of those unknown brands is "Specially produced in the UK for Aldi Stores Ltd." They are Aldi's own brand (under many different names that don't include the word Aldi in them) just as much as Tesco's own-brand items are. Neither supermarket chain produces the actual item, they buy it in from a supplier, possibly made to their own specifications, and in packaging of their own choice (One says "Vitacat" and the other says "Tesco").

    There's not much difference between Tesco own-brand and Aldi's cryptic own-brands except price. For most things they taste close enough (as far as my much-abused sense of taste is concerned) that I probably couldn't tell the difference in a blind taste test. Aldi is usually cheaper; Tesco is slightly more convenient for me to get to.

    I have no valid reason to complain that I can't get Tesco-branded stuff at Aldi, or that I can't get Aldi's cryptically-branded stuff at Tesco. I am a tad upset that I can't get many big-brand items at Aldi (I don't buy many) because it means I usually end up paying more at Tesco for their own-brand stuff and a couple of big-brand items just to save me having to shop in two places.

    To cover one thing expressed by some commenters, when I do buy a big-brand item such as Dreamies cat treats, I know a large chunk of the money goes to Mars (yes, the choccy bar people also make cat food), but I'm buying it from Tesco. Under legislation and precedent, if I have a problem with a big-brand item my complaint should first be directed to wherever I bought it (Tesco) not Mars.

    And here's the reason I brought up Tesco and Aldi. I can't buy the same Apple app elsewhere (I'm not even sure if I could sideload an app from anywhere else since I don't have any iToys). Apple apps are very much like Tesco's own-brand stuff and Aldi's cryptic own-brand stuff. Execpt Tesco and Aldi don't have any lock-in mechanism but Apple does. Aldi won't refuse to sell me stuff because I have a Tesco digestive system (I don't anyway, but you know what I mean). Apple controls what apps people can buy and how much they pay. It very much is a monopoly situation.

    And just to be fair (I must be ill) I can also see Apple has a point other than simple profit. If people can load any old crap from anywhere onto their iToy then Apple is going to get more support issues (possibly non-profitable) to deal with when the iToy gets pwned or runs slow because of crapware.

    But, in the final analysis, I don't really care because I don't use anything from Apple and probably never will. Maybe if I were so rich I could wipe my arse with £20 notes (not the fiver or tenner because they're plastic and would just smear things around) I'd buy iToys. I'm not, so I don't.

  16. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Get them on the standing....

    ...do not have legal standing to bring the case because they are not the ones being forced to pay the commission; it's the app developers, and they did not buy anything directly from Apple....

    And of course the app developers aren't going to ruin their careers and income by doing anything to upset Apple...

  17. RobertsonCR7

    lets see how this fires back...

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