I've had trouble finding things to say about Apple v. Epic, wherein Epic launched a clearly choreographed and premeditated series of actions, beginning with adding a method of payment that was not allowed by App Store guidelines and (some) analogues, getting this update taken down and Fortnite delisted, filing legal action against Apple for monopolistic behavior, being told that their Apple developer account for all platforms would be delisted in 14 days, appending more legal evidence and finally being told by Apple by way of a public statement, more or less, that "it doesn't have to be like this".
This should be catnip for me (or "app nip", if you will). In some ways the same fight is being wagered as before, but with high enough stakes that some damage may be made. But instead it just makes me uncomfortable.
Apple and Epic are two peas in a pod - both large companies staffed with many talented, capable people who provide an equally capable platform, on top of which many other people can build projects that do things they wouldn't do otherwise, and both companies that have mastered the ability to extract just enough money from this practice to not look like Oracle outright. Neither can plausably look like a scrappy underdog, and instead of stumbling into this situation through emergent arbitrariness, it was instigated as a public relations operation which looks, sounds and smells like a public relations operation, and only really excels at pointing out the hypocrisy in the other 800 pound gorilla's public relations self-image. In short: it is an excellent point, fight and narrative, ruined by details, circumstance and participants.
But what has sat with me for a bit is the wording used in Apple's recent olive branch: "The problem Epic has created for itself is one that can easily be remedied if they submit an update of their app that reverts it to comply with the guidelines they agreed to and which apply to all developers." Combined with the power in Apple's grasp, their immense size using nearly every possible metric, and the policies used in the store today, theirs is the language of the person on the wrong side of history.
Imagine a digital company town, all profits feed the owner and all salaries are spent in the company store. Why, the worker may have created a kerfuffle with their funny-sounding, foreign ideas about "safety standards" and "unions" and "5 day work weeks", but they could simply drop these corrosive ideas and go back to being a worker at belt 33, and The Company will be magnaminous enough to forgive. Maybe.
Imagine an industry town racket, all shops and cafés and barbers and bakers feeling their hearts sink at the tap on the glass. It's time, have you forgotten? 30% of all profits. Hm, this seems a bit light, are you holding out on us? I'll let it be this time, but you better be playing us straight. This town is full of bad luck, and you're lucky to have someone like us to look out for you, making sure you don't end up in it. Remember what happened to Jimmy? Terrible.
Imagine an unkind world, denying to you the dignity of personal enumeration, of individual treatment, of suffrage, of education, because of the makeup of your chromosomes, the area of your origin, the color of your skin, the spirit and morals from which you channel strength. Why would you demand more - don't you know these are not innate rights, but benefits confered to people who are the way people should be? Put down your petitions and your aspirations, and be of use, unilaterally and unconditionally, to us, and if you seek clemency and bother not nobody of import, so may you find, in time, gracious compence for your efforts. As long as you remember the source of your fortune.
The App Store is not any of those things, and Apple are not tyrants (and have indeed stood up against some tyranny, albeit in a curiously specific way). Apple are about as much of a net good in the world as a company that runs an App Store can still credibly be. Nor are Epic doing more than LARPing not being in control of their own ship. Only they know whether they actually care about other companies; I'm willing to entertain the notion that they do, but regardless they're not out on the corner with a paper cup, so why the above?
Because the proportions are so disproportionate even with Epic that Apple, as one of the world's biggest companies with one of the world's biggest platforms, can't help but speak in the same tone. It's not a choice; it's the weight of circumstance, sprinkled with years of history. That's what monopolies do – they turn every opportunity and every proposal into a transaction that furthers the monopolist, transferring power and influence and means chiefly in one way. Power corrupts, and a monopoly is a centralization of power, its presence permeating inescapably, even if you're plopped down in the position by mistake and not by malicious pursuit, even if you're good and well-meaning.
If that's what you spend 12 years doing and wish to run an operation that's not just benevolent on the surface — with extremely hand-picked scenarios that pretend the world of software is confined to the four companies whose work your keynote features and ignore the existence of the Internet while training people to accept a significantly lower price of purchase which maybe would work out if only more people could find your app — but actually a beneficial proposition for both parties, you have to fight with every fiber of your being, with every action along the road to counteract the balance tipping towards you, and to empower the developers so as to empower users by the fruits of those labors. They not only haven't done that, they've thrown obstacle after obstacle in the way of the developers, in the cause of advancing some hare-brained strategy or apparent unity or surface simplicity. Was this by active, pre-meditated malevolence? Almost never, that I've been able to tell. Does it affect, move or excuse the outcome? Not that, either.
The App Store is a corrupt state and it deserves a revolution, but it can't be started by the cousin of the Minister of Energy who happens to own half the refineries, and it can't be given credibly sustained traction by the playbook that spends time aping Chiat-Day.