Apple's 'walled garden' faces Epic attack in app store trial

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A member of Apple's legal team rolls exhibit boxes into the Ronald V. Dellums building in Oakland, Calif., as the company faces off in federal court against Epic Games on Monday, May 3, 2021. Epic, maker of the video game Fortnite, charges that Apple has transformed its App Store into an illegal monopoly. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

SAN RAMON, Calif. – Apple’s lucrative app store was alternately portrayed as a price-gouging monopoly and a hub of world-changing innovation during the preamble to a trial that may reshape the technological landscape.

The contrasting portraits were drawn on Monday as lawyers for Apple and its foe, Epic Games, outlined their cases in an Oakland, California, federal court before U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who will decide the case.

While Apple depicted its app store as an invaluable service beloved by consumers and developers alike, Epic Games attacked it as a breakthrough idea that has morphed into an instrument of financial exploitation that illegally locks out competition.

The trial, expected to last most of this month, revolves around the 15% to 30% commission that Apple charges for subscriptions and purchases made from apps downloaded from its store -- the only one accessible on the iPhone, iPad and iPod.

Epic, the maker of the popular Fortnite video game, laid out evidence drawn mostly from Apple’s internal documents in an attempt to prove the company has built a digital “walled garden” during the past 13 years as part of a strategy crafted by its late co-founder, Steve Jobs. The formula, Epic contends, is designed to make it as difficult as possible for consumers to stop buying its products and services.

“The most prevalent flower in the walled garden is the Venus fly trap,” said Epic lawyer Katherine Forrest. Later, Forrest highlighted expert testimony that will be submitted during the trial that estimated Apple reaped profit margins of 75% to 78% during 2018 and 2019, even though Jobs publicly said the company didn’t expect to make large sums of money from the app store when it opened in 2008.

The app store is now an integral piece of a services division that generated nearly $17 billion in revenue during the first three months of this year alone.

Apple brushed off Epic’s arguments as a case brimming with unfounded allegations made by a company that wants to get rid of the app store commission to increase its own profits while freeloading off an iPhone ecosystem that has cost more than $100 billion to build.