Apple heads to U.S. Supreme Court to argue against App Store monopoly lawsuit
The iPhone has long been one of the most popular smartphones in the world since its introduction back in 2007, mainly due to the simplicity and fluidity of iOS. However, a common criticism of the operating system is its locked-down nature, particularly with regards to applications. The only legitimate way for an average consumer to install an app in iOS is to use Apple’s proprietary App Store, and this has not gone over well with some iOS users.
This issue lies at the heart of a lawsuit levied against Apple, claiming that the tech juggernaut has a monopoly on iPhone and iPad apps. The lawsuit contends that Apple inflates app prices by charging a 30% commission on all app sales and is able to do so because of the monopoly created by the App Store.
Apple will stand before the U.S. Supreme Court Monday and argue that the case is invalid. Rather than arguing against the claims that the iOS App Store is a monopoly, Apple is instead claiming that only app developers themselves can sue the company for anti-competitive behavior, not consumers.
The basis for Apple’s claim comes from a 1977 case, Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois. The Court ruled in that case that if a supplier inflates prices, the only parties that can bring suit against the supplier are contractors and buyers directly affected by the price gouging, not the end consumer. In other words, the app developers who are forced to pay a 30% commission to Apple would be the only parties that could sue Apple for monopolistic practices, not iOS users that purchase apps. Apple argues that it is not selling apps directly to users, but is rather acting as an intermediary between developers and end users.
Technically, Apple is in the right. The company is not the one who sets the price for an app; the app’s developer does. A developer may set the price for an iOS app higher because of the commissions charged by Apple, but that’s ultimately the developer’s decision. It is also the developer who has the right to sue Apple for potential monopolistic behavior, not the end user.
There are a lot of legal professionals that have offered opinions on the case. Some support Apple, saying that Illinois Brick Co. V. Illinois indeed protects the Cupertino giant from any lawsuits lodged by end users. Others claim that the suit is valid as Apple is a “man-in-the-middle,” so to speak. To that end, Apple’s actions directly affect both developers and end users; thus, the company is liable (according to this argument).
Either way, Apple is not settling whether or not the App Store is a monopoly. It is arguing that the case brought against it is invalid, and that is what the Supreme Court will decide here. A ruling on this argument is expected by late June 2019.
It should be noted that since iOS 7, users have been able to download apps directly from websites by using certain iOS browsers like Safari and Chrome. There are a few more hoops to jump through, like manually granting permissions to the app. Third-party apps are also typically given a temporary signed certificate that expires after about 7 days; after the certificate expires, the app must be re-installed and re-certified. The process is cumbersome, but it does allow another venue for apps to be distributed and installed outside of the iOS App Store.