Apple and Epic Games trial: Judge Grills Tim Cook on App Store Policies

Tim Cook, Apple CEO, appeared in the Epic Games v. Apple courtroom, and some of Judge Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers' final questioning did not seem to go in Apple's favor.

She grilled Cook for several minutes about Apple's App Store practices and some of his comments. "You said that you want to give users power, so what's wrong with allowing users to choose a less expensive content option?"

Cook explained that he meant data access when he said "control," and he assured the judge that consumers could choose between Android and iPhone phones.

Rogers was unsatisfied with the response and demanded to know what the problem is with Apple allowing customers to purchase cheaper V-Bucks (Fortnite's in-game currency) in-app or through a website connection.

"If we let developers connect out like that, we'd lose our monetization," Cook said. "We need a return on our IP address. We have 150,000 APIs to build and manage, as well as a slew of developer resources and fees to pay."

Judge Rogers suggested that Apple could make money in other ways, noting that games account for the majority of in-app purchases. She said, "It's almost as though they're subsidizing everyone else." Rogers used the App Store as an example of banking applications. "Are you sure you don't owe Wells Fargo? However, you're charging gamers to support Wells Fargo."

Cook explained that games are transacting on the website. He also clarified that providing a large number of free apps boosts App Store traffic, resulting in a much wider audience for gaming apps than would be possible if there were no free apps.

Judge Rogers described it as an "option" to take a share of in-app purchases for games while not charging for other apps. "Of course, there are other choices," Cook said. "We believe this is the best overall." Rogers acknowledged that Apple brings consumers to the games and retains their customers after the initial contact. "It seems to me that Apple is profiting off of that," she said.

Judge Rogers stated that she does not think Apple reduced its App Store fees for developers earning less than $1 million because of COVID, but rather because of the pending litigation. "It was because of COVID," Cook explained. "Of course, I was thinking about the lawsuit." The judge argued that Google changed its policies due to competition, citing Google's decision to lower Play Store prices. She went on to say, "You didn't improve because of competition."

Rogers then questioned Cook about a survey that showed 39% of developers are unhappy with the App Store, prompting some of the most damning questions of the trial. Cook said he was unaware of the study, but the fact that 40k apps are rejected every week causes some tension because developers' and users' incentives aren't always aligned.

Rogers told Cook, "It doesn't seem to me that you have any competition or feel much incentive to work for developers." She said that she hadn't seen any evidence that Apple conducts developer satisfaction surveys or allows improvements for developers. On Monday, May 24, Apple and Epic will make closing remarks, bringing the trial to a close.