Epic Games introduced an update to their mobile (iOS and Android) version of Fortnite that allows users to buy directly from Epic Games at a 20% discount, removing incentives to pay with the officially sanctioned payment systems on the App Store and Play Store.
Soon after this update, Apple removed Fortnite from its App Store, Google was not far behind in doing the same. In response, Epic Games has filed individual suits against both tech giants claiming that their behaviour is monopolistic control over their respective ecosystems. However, there is some nuance and differences that we should explore between the two ecosystems that could have implications for the validity of the anti-trust lawsuits that Epic will have to contend with.
Looking at the two ecosystems holistically, it is perhaps more appropriate in this case to think of Android and iOS as marketplaces rather than solely focusing on their function as operating systems. The contention is that the marketplaces are being monopolised and controlled to the disadvantage of developers. This is especially true of Apple iOS, where the entire OS is a marketplace, where the App Store is the only access point for third-party applications to the ecosystem. If an application is removed from the App Store, the third-party application simply cannot exist on the iOS ecosystem.
Comparatively, Google’s Android OS functions a little differently. The OS acts as an open ecosystem which is augmented by the Play Store. The Play Store, not the OS, is the marketplace – the place for discovery. The Play Store as a standalone application can have comparative and competitive marketplaces on the Android OS, like the Samsung store. Further, the Android OS allows for third-party installs of applications albeit with security warnings.
Epic might have a hard time arguing that Google is being anti-competitive when it has avenues of access – albeit less direct – outside of the Google Play Store. Applications can still exist within the Android ecosystem even when the Play Store removes listings according to their marketplace rules.
Apple, on the other hand, has its entire ecosystem siloed as a marketplace, with no third-party marketplaces allowed and no ability to legally install third-party applications – placing them in a much more difficult position when it comes to anti-competitive claims. In recent months, Apple has come under increasing scrutiny as they butt heads with application developers, most notably Hey email client, Google’s Stadia platform and Microsoft’s xCloud platform.