The legal conflict between Epic Games and Apple has already had quite a few consequences. The court of public opinion has already pressured Apple and Google to lower marketplace costs for developers in the App Store and Play Store, and a number of Apple’s antics have come to the attention of politicians and the general public. Now, a new court filing from Epic Games opens the can of worms that is iMessage exclusivity.
It’s no secret that Apple maintains some of its own products and services to keep users from casually jumping to competing platforms, but few are as successful as iMessage. In preparation for the trial beginning May 3, Epic Games submitted a briefing with excerpts showing that Apple’s management team had made a deliberate decision to restrict iMessage to Apple’s own platforms.
The questionnaire in the statements aims to demonstrate Apple’s use of platform lock-in to create a monopoly that keeps users dependent on the App Store and the in-app payment system, which came under fire when Epic released a release from Fortnite that turned around Apple’s payment systems.
58. Apple has recognized the power iMessage has to attract and keep users within its ecosystem.
a. As early as 2013, Apple decided not to develop a version of iMessage for the Android operating system. (Cue Department 92: 22-93: 1.)
b. Mr. Cue testified that Apple “could have made a version on Android that worked with iOS” so that there would have been “cross-compatibility with the iOS platform so that users of both platforms could seamlessly exchange messages with each other.” (Cue Dep 92: 5-9; 92: 11-16.)
c. However, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering and iOS manager, feared that “iMessage on Android would simply serve to [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their children Android phones ”. (PX407, at ‘122.)
d. Phil Schiller, an Apple manager responsible for the App Store, agreed that Apple should not offer iMessage on Android devices. (Cue Dep. 92: 18-93: 1.)
e. In 2016, when a former Apple employee commented that “the # 1 hardest [reason] iMessage is to exit the Apple Universe app. IMessage comes down to a serious lock-in for the Apple ecosystem, Mr. Schiller noted that “moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than help us, this email illustrates why”. (PX416, in ‘610; Cue Dep. 114: 14-115: 2.)
The statements cite Eddy Cue (SVP of Internet Software and Services) as acknowledging that Apple was able to develop a version of iMessage for Android as early as 2013. However, Craig Federighi (SVP of Software Engineering) and Phil Schiller (SVP of Worldwide Marketing) expressed fears it would hurt the company if it made software available that removes an obstacle for people who might otherwise want to use Android. An additional comment from another Apple employee emphasizes that iMessage is the single biggest factor in keeping people in Apple’s ecosystem and calls it “serious lock-in.”
Of course, there is no technical limitation that prevents Apple from developing iMessage for Android, and most people already assume that this is a strategic decision. Apple has never mentioned whether it plans to build a version of iMessage for Android, but with these statements out in the open, it’s easy to see why there has been radio silence on this topic. It doesn’t look good to public opinion, and it could help Epic Games defend unfair trading practices against developers, but the practice is not illegal and is unlikely to attract the attention of regulators – meaning Apple likely will. stay on track. In other words, don’t expect iMessage to be officially on Android anytime soon.