If you keep up with the ongoings of Apple and other consumer technology-related news, you’re probably aware of the recent standoff between Apple and Epic Games. Just recently, Epic released their latest season of Fortnite—their popular battle royale game—and the newest battle pass won’t be available on iOS.
In fact, as of now, no future updates for Fortnite will be available on iOS and iPadOS as long as Apple and Epic are feuding. Furthermore, Epic’s developer account has been banned indefinitely, meaning the game cannot be played on iOS devices for the foreseeable future. And so Epic has positioned itself as the underdog while painting Apple as the greedy corporate overlord taking advantage of small developers.
But is this an accurate description of the current state of affairs between Apple and its developer base? Is it fair to envision Epic Games as a small developer being stripped of opportunities for growth? Has Apple become the thing they once stood against when they aired their infamous 1984 campaign targeting IBM?
The answers to these questions aren’t simple. Answering with a basic “yes” or “no” ignores everything else behind the scenes and all of the developers that have found success largely in part to the App Store.
In fact, Epic’s Unreal Engine and games such as the Infinity Blade series have long been a staple of iOS devices. One might even argue that without Apple, Epic wouldn’t be the behemoth of an organization that they are today. That’s right, they aren’t the underdog.
Don’t let them fool you. This isn’t all about consumer privacy or developer hurdles; it’s also a war on your wallet. It’s a contest for your privacy. It’s a yearning for control like we haven’t seen before.
Both companies are clawing at your digital rights, but you don’t get a say in the end result.
On one hand, Apple can, and will, make the argument that their App Store keeps users—and their privacy— safe. On the other, Epic will say that it’s anticompetitive and stifles creativity. In my opinion, they’re both right (and wrong).
Apple makes a compelling point and has often shown that it cares about our privacy. From innovative and robust privacy controls, to sandboxing its apps to contain issues within specific applications and games. They don’t store biometrics or credit card data in the cloud, and Sign-In with Apple makes it easy to create an account without giving up your personal information. This is a compelling argument to choose iOS over Android if security matters most. It’s to this end, that it makes sense to only allow apps that have been distributed through the App Store.
Of course, this privacy seems to come at a price. A price that’s paid by developers. Apple takes a large chunk (usually 30%) from transactions placed through the App Store. So when you pay $10 for an app, the developer gets paid $7.
Some developers choose to use advertisements to make a profit instead, but this can result in a less than stellar user experience when you constantly need to watch ads or be careful not to tap external links.
If Apple is so concerned with user safety, I might argue it makes more sense to offer the App Store platform as a free resource to developers; to encourage innovation and provide developers with the funds they need to keep making great software for the Apple ecosystem. There are other options too, such as price caps. But one easy solution would be to let developers handle their own in-app transactions, similar to what Epic had in mind.
But before you go thinking that Apple is some corporate monster and that Epic is the hero waiting to slay the beast, keep in mind that Epic isn’t exactly the hero of the people.
Estimated to be worth over $4 billion (USD), Epic is quite the contender itself. Contender for control of your wallet and privacy that is. And it’s not just Apple’s App Store that charges a fee. Most other major platforms also take their own chunks from transactions placed through their marketplaces.
If given their way, Epic could easily harvest more user data during transactions. They could side skirt the App Store and its security measures. Sure it would be akin to macOS and Windows, but when it comes to our mobile devices in a digital era, security is key. Our phones are more than just a calculator or gaming device. They hold our passwords, our credit cards, contacts, and calendar. They can control our lights, our locks, and even our cars. They’re used daily, hourly, even by the minute. Apple’s decision to protect our privacy is something we aren’t getting from their relatively smaller competitors.
So while Epic might be framing this as a win for small developers and consumers everywhere, we might want to stop and ask ourselves if that’s what we really want. At the end of the day, this comes down to a lot more than what we see above the surface; this war can have a major effect on the future of our digital privacy and security. Fortnite is just a game, our digital protections are not.
For those that play Fortnite, it will still be accessible on desktop computers and major consoles (including the Nintendo Switch). If you play exclusively on your iPhone or iPad, there are alternative games that have the same gameplay style. You may want to check out PUBG or Call of Duty Mobile. Apple Arcade offers a game called Butter Royale which might tickle your fancy and is more appropriate for younger audiences as well.
As I said earlier, this isn’t a simple who’s right, who’s wrong scenario. The variables are limitless. So what’s your take? Let us know in the comments. Whether or not you play Fortnite, the final outcome of this event could change the way we interact with apps and games on our devices forever.