Epic Games Inc’s first chance to put Apple Inc on the defensive about its App Store at a high-stakes trial got off to a rocky start. Epic’s lawyers opened their questioning of App Store chief Matt Fischer by dredging up a five-year-old email that quoted a colleague saying “Matt feels extremely strong about not featuring our competitors on the App Store.” But the quote wasn’t presented in its full context and Fischer quickly dismissed it as a misrepresentation.
Then the game maker was excoriated by the judge for blindsiding her about a cache of evidence exhibits that the company released publicly.
Fischer is the first Apple employee to take the witness stand as Epic, the creator of Fortnite, tries to prove that the marketplace for apps that run on hundreds of millions of iPhones is operated like a monopoly. Trystan Kosmynka, a senior director at Apple in charge of the app review process, is set to be called to the stand later in the day.
The trial in Oakland, California, comes as Apple faces a backlash — with billions of dollars in revenue on the line — from global regulators and some app developers who say its standard App Store fee of 30% and others policies are unjust and self-serving.
The fight with Epic blew up in August when the game maker told customers it would replace Apple’s in-app purchase system with its own, circumventing Apple’s commissions from add-ons inside of Fortnite. Apple then removed the game, cutting off access for more than a billion customers.
Apple, which vehemently denies abusing its market power, has called Epic’s legal gambit a “fundamental assault” on a business model that is beneficial to both developers and consumers.
The statement that Fischer’s colleague made about him in a 2016 email was in relation to featuring Google and Amazon in Apple’s App Store page for accessible apps. The subject of the email was: “Competitor Apps in VoiceOver Collection.” The full sentence from which Epic pulled the quote was: “Although they may be our best and brightest apps, Matt feels extremely strong about not featuring our competitors on the App Store, so Tanya asked us to apply the same filters for this collection.”
When Apple’s attorney asked Fischer to clarify the email, he said his colleague was misinformed.
“We have promoted apps that are competitive to Apple apps,” Fischer testified. “We do this all the time.” Disney Plus and Hulu are examples of apps Apple has promoted despite having Apple TV+ service, Fischer said.
Apple’s lawyer also neutralised Epic’s attempt to pin certain security and privacy problems on Fischer by pointing out that they weren’t part of his duties managing the App Store.
Epic also managed to get cross-ways with US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers for putting documents online for public viewing without giving her an explanation.
“All these things are being published, they’re out there,” Gonzalez Rogers said. “Non lawyers don’t understand the difference between something being admitted for the truth versus being admitted for some other purpose like notice so I want to nail that down.”
Some of the documents that were uploaded to a publicly accessible account account disappeared shortly after the judge’s remarks.
The courtroom has limited public seating due to pandemic-related restrictions, but the court has set up audio feeds for the public and media.