Tim Cook says iPhone App Store would be 'toxic mess' without Apple's control

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Tim Cook arriving at court in Oakland, California - Reuters
Tim Cook arriving at court in Oakland, California - Reuters

Tim Cook has warned that the iPhone risks becoming a “toxic mess” if Apple loses control of how apps are downloaded, as the tech giant’s chief executive defended the company in a high-stakes monopoly lawsuit.

Mr Cook, appearing on the last day of evidence of a three-week US trial brought by the maker of the video game Fortnite, defended the company’s grip on how iPhone users can buy and install apps.

Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, claims Apple illegally exploits a monopoly over how iPhone apps are downloaded to charge excessive fees, barring alternatives to its multi-billion dollar App Store.

Apple argues that it is not a monopoly, and says allowing rival app stores and payment services would put users at risk in comparison to the company’s control over what apps are allowed onto its store.

Mr Cook, in the first public courtroom appearance in his 10 years as Apple chief executive, said that allowing alternatives would jeopardise users’ safety and that the company’s strict review system protects security and privacy.

“We review thousands of apps a week; you can imagine if you turned app review off how long it would take for the App Store to become a toxic kind of mess”, he said.

An artist rendering of Cook on the witness stand - Vicki Behringer/AP
An artist rendering of Cook on the witness stand - Vicki Behringer/AP

“We could no longer make the promise [to protect users]. If you think about how we make the promise of safety, security, privacy, a large part of it depends on app review, we believe customers want that.”

Apple kicked Fortnite off the App Store last year after Epic attempted to circumvent Apple’s payment system, which takes a commission of up to 30pc on purchases such as digital items within video games.

It is asking a judge to force the company to allow rival app stores and alternative payment systems. Victory for Epic, which is seeking to launch its own app store, could affect tens of billions of dollars in app spending.

Mr Cook warned that other companies would be less likely to protect users. “[They are] not as motivated as Apple is, for us the customer is everything... I don’t think you [get] that with third parties,” he said. “It’s an experiment I wouldn’t want to run,” he said about the possibility of rival stores.

Mr Cook said he did not know how much money the App Store makes, saying that Apple did not assess how profitable the store alone is, although he disputed Epic’s claims that its profit margins were 80pc.

However, he said that Apple did not have a dominant market share, saying it competes fiercely with other smartphone makers, and that users were able to switch between different systems.

The trial is expected to conclude on Monday, although a judge’s decision is not expected for several weeks. It comes as Apple is under investigation in multiple countries over how it manages the App Store.

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