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Apple contends Epic’s ban was a ‘self-inflicted’ prelude to gaming the App Store

Apple has filed legal documents opposing Epic’s attempt to have itself reinstated in the iOS App Store, after having been kicked out last week for flouting its rules. Apple characterizes the entire thing as a “carefully orchestrated, multi-faceted campaign” aimed at circumventing — perhaps permanently — the 30% cut it demands for the privilege of doing business on iOS.
Epic last week slyly introduced a way to make in-app purchases in its popular game Fortnite without going through Apple. This is plainly against the rules, and Apple soon kicked the game, and the company’s other accounts, off the App Store. Obviously having anticipated this, Epic then published a parody of Apple’s famous 1984 ad, filed a lawsuit and began executing what Apple describes quite accurately as “a carefully orchestrated, multi-faceted campaign.”

Epic files motion for injunction against Apple over threat to revoke all developer access

In fact, as Apple notes in its challenge, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney emailed ahead of time to let Apple know what his company had planned. From Apple’s filing:
Around 2am on August 13, Mr. Sweeney of Epic wrote to Apple stating its intent to breach Epic’s agreements:
“Epic will no longer adhere to Apple’s payment processing restrictions.”
This was after months of attempts at negotiations in which, according to declarations from Apple’s Phil Schiller, Epic attempted to coax a “side letter” from Apple granting Epic special dispensation. This contradicts claims by Sweeney that Epic never asked for a special deal. From Schiller’s declaration:

Specifically, on June 30, 2020, Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney wrote my colleagues and me an email asking for a “side letter” from Apple that would create a special deal for only Epic that would fundamentally change the way in which Epic offers apps on Apple’s iOS platform.
In this email, Mr. Sweeney expressly acknowledged that his proposed changes would be in direct breach of multiple terms of the agreements between Epic and Apple. Mr. Sweeney acknowledged that Epic could not implement its proposal unless the agreements between Epic and Apple were modified.

One prong of Epic’s assault was a request for courts to grant a “temporary restraining order,” or TRO, a legal procedure for use in emergencies where a party’s actions are unlawful, a suit to show their illegality is pending and likely to succeed, and those actions should be proactively reversed because they will cause “irreparable harm.”
If Epic’s request were to be successful, Apple would be forced to reinstate Fortnite and allow its in-game store to operate outside of the App Store’s rules. As you might imagine, this would be disastrous for Apple — not only would its rules have been deliberately ignored, but a court would have placed its imprimatur on the idea that those rules may even be illegal. So it is essential that Apple slap down this particular legal challenge quickly and comprehensively.
Apple’s filing challenges the TRO request on several grounds. First, it contends that there is no real “emergency” or “irreparable harm” because the entire situation was concocted and voluntarily initiated by Epic:

Having decided that it would rather enjoy the benefits of the App Store without paying for them, Epic has breached its contracts with Apple, using its own customers and Apple’s users as leverage.
But the “emergency” is entirely of Epic’s own making…it knew full well what would happen and, in so doing, has knowingly and purposefully created the harm to game players and developers it now asks the Court to step in and remedy.

Epic’s complaint that Apple banned its Unreal Engine accounts as well as Fortnite related ones, Apple notes, is not unusual, considering the accounts share tax IDs, emails and so on. It’s the same “user,” for their purposes. Apple also says it gave Epic ample warning and opportunity to correct its actions before a ban took place. (Apple, after all, makes a great deal of money from the app as well.)
Apple also questions the likelihood of Epic’s main lawsuit (independent of the TRO request) succeeding on its merits — namely that Apple is exercising monopoly power in its rent-collecting on the App Store:

[Epic’s] logic would make monopolies of Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, just to name a few.
Epic’s antitrust theories, like its orchestrated campaign, are a transparent veneer for its effort to co-opt for itself the benefits of the App Store without paying or complying with important requirements that are critical to protect user safety, security,
and privacy.

Lastly Apple notes that there is no benefit to the public interest to providing the TRO — unlike if, for example, Apple’s actions had prevented emergency calls from working or the like, and there was a serious safety concern:
All of that alleged injury for which Epic improperly seeks emergency relief could disappear tomorrow if Epic cured its breach…All of this can happen without any intervention of the Court or expenditure of judicial resources. And Epic would be free to pursue its primary lawsuit.
Although Apple eschews speculating further in its filings, one source close to the matter suggested that it is of paramount importance to that company to avoid the possibility of Epic or anyone else establishing their own independent app stores on iOS. A legal precedent would go a long way toward clearing the way for such a thing, so this is potentially an existential threat for Apple’s long-toothed but extremely profitable business model.
The conflict with Epic is only the latest in a series going back years in which companies challenged Apple’s right to control and profit from what amounts to a totally separate marketplace.

Apple goes to war with the gaming industry

Most recently Microsoft’s xCloud app was denied entry to the App Store because it amounted to a marketplace for games that Apple could not feasibly vet individually. Given this kind of functionality is very much the type of thing consumers want these days, the decision was not popular. Other developers, industries and platforms have challenged Apple on various fronts as well, to the point where the company has promised to create a formal process for challenging its rules.
But of course, even the rule-challenging process is bound by Apple’s rules.
You can read the full Apple filing below:
Epic v. Apple 4:20-cv-05640… by TechCrunch on Scribd

Apple contends Epic’s ban was a ‘self-inflicted’ prelude to gaming the App Store

After numerous rejections, Struck’s dating app for the Co-Star crowd hits the App Store

Founded by former Apple engineers, a new app called Struck wants to be the Tinder for the Co-Star crowd. In other words, it’s an astrology-based matchmaker. But it took close to 10 attempts over several months for the startup to get its app approved by Apple for inclusion in the App Store. In nearly every rejection, app reviewers flagged the app as “spam” either due to its use of astrology or, once, simply because it was designed for online dating.
Apple continually cited section 4.3 of its App Store Review Guidelines in the majority of Struck’s rejections, with the exception of two that were unrelated to the app’s purpose. (Once, it was rejected for use of a broken API. Another rejection was over text that needed correction. It had still called itself a “beta.”)
The 4.3 guideline is something Apple wields to keep the App Store free from what it considers to be clutter and spam. In spirit, the guideline makes sense, as it gives Apple permission to make more subjective calls over low-quality apps.
Today, the guideline states that developers should “avoid piling on to a category that is already saturated,” and reminds developers that the App Store has “enough fart, burp, flashlight, fortune telling, dating, and Kama Sutra apps, etc. already.”
In the document, Apple promises to reject anything that “doesn’t offer a high-quality experience.”
Image Credits: Struck
This guideline was also updated in March to further raise the bar on dating apps and create stricter rules around “fortune-telling” apps, among other things.
Struck, unfortunately, found itself in the crosshairs of this new enforcement. But while its app may use astrology in a matchmaking process, its overall design and business model is nowhere close to resembling that of a shady “fortune-telling” app.
In fact, Struck hasn’t even implemented its monetization model, which may involve subscriptions and à la carte features at a later date.
Rather, Struck has been carefully and thoughtfully designed to provide an alternative to market leaders like Tinder. Built by a team of mostly women, including two people of color and one LGBTQ+ team member, the app is everything mainstream dating apps are not.
Image Credits: Struck
Struck doesn’t, for example, turn online dating into a Hot-or-Not style game. It works by first recommending matches by way of its understanding of users’ detailed birth charts and aspects. But you don’t have to be a true believer in astrology to enjoy the experience. You can use the app just for fun if you’re open-minded, the company website says. “Skeptics welcome,” it advertises.
And while Tinder and others tend to leverage psychological tricks to make their apps more addictive, Struck aims to slow things down in order to allow users to once again focus on romance and conversations. There are no endless catalogs of head shots to swipe upon in Struck. Instead, it sends you no more than four matches per day and you can message only one of the four.
Image Credits: Struck
The app’s overall goal is to give users time to analyze their matches’ priorities and values, not just how they appear in photos.
If anything, this is precisely the kind of unique, thoughtfully crafted app the App Store should cater to, not the kind it should ban.
“We come from an Apple background. We come from a tech background. We were very insistent on having a good, quality user interface and user experience,” explains Struck co-founder and CEO Rachel Lo. “That was a big focus for us in our beta testing. We honestly didn’t expect any pushback when we submitted to the App Store,” she says.
Image Credits: Struck
But Apple did push back. After first submitting the app in May, Struck went through around nine rounds of rejections where reviewers continued to claim it was spam simply for being an astrology-based dating application. The team would then pull out astrology features hoping to get the app approved… with no luck. Finally, one reviewer told them Struck was being rejected for being a dating app.
“I remember thinking, we’re going to have to shut down this project. There’s not really a way through,” recounts Lo. The Struck team, in a last resort, posted to their Instagram page about their struggles and how they felt Apple’s rejections were unfair given the app’s quality. Plus, as Lo points out, the rejection had a tinge of sexism associated with it.
“Obviously, astrology is a heavily female-dominated category,” she says. “I took issue with the guideline that says ‘burps, farts and fortune-telling apps.’ I made a fuss about that verbiage and how offensive it is for people in most of the world who actually observe astrology.”
Image Credits: Struck
Despite the founders’ connections within the technology industry, thanks to their ex-Apple status and relationships with journalists who would go on to plead their case, Struck was not getting approved.
Finally, after several supporters left comments on Apple VP Lisa Jackson’s Instagram where she had posted about WWDC, the app was — for unknown reasons — suddenly given the green light. It’s unclear if the Instagram posts made a difference. Even the app reviewer couldn’t explain why the app was now approved, when asked.
The whole debacle has soured the founders on the way Apple today runs its App Store, and sees them supportive of the government’s antitrust investigations into Apple’s business, which could result in new regulations.
“We had no course of action. And it felt really, really wrong for this giant company to basically be squashing small developers, says Lo. “I don’t know what’s going to become of our app — we hope it’s successful and we hope we can build a good, diverse business from it,” she continues. “But the point was that we weren’t even being given the opportunity to distribute our app that we had spent nine months building.”
Image Credits: Struck
Though Apple is turning its nose up at astrology apps, apparently, you don’t have to take astrology to heart to have fun with apps like Struck or those that inspired it, such as Co-Star. These newer Zodiac apps aren’t as obsessed with predicting your future as they are with offering a framework to examine your emotions, your place in the world and your interpersonal relationships. That led Co-Star to snag a $5 million seed round in 2019, one of many astrology apps investors were chasing last year as consumer spend among the top 10 in this space jumped 65% over 2018.
Struck, ultimately, wants to give the market something different from Tinder, and that has value.
“We want to challenge straight men since it is — quote unquote — a traditionally feminine-looking app,” says Lo. “For us, it’s 2020. It’s shocking to us that every dating app looks like a slot machine. We want to make something that has a voice and makes women feel comfortable. And I think our usership split between the genders kind of proved that.”
Struck is live today on the App Store — well, for who knows how long.
It initially caters to users in the Bay Area and LA and will arrive in New York on Friday. Based on user feedback, it will slowly roll out to more markets where it sees demand.

After numerous rejections, Struck’s dating app for the Co-Star crowd hits the App Store

US beat China on App Store downloads for first time since 2014, due to coronavirus impact

The U.S. App Store’s downloads have surpassed China’s downloads for the first time since 2014. According to data from Sensor Tower’s Q2 2020 report, out today, the U.S. App Store saw 27.4% year-over-year growth in the quarter, compared to the 2.1% growth for the China App Store. During the quarter, the U.S. App Store generated 2.22 billion new installs compared with China’s 2.06 billion downloads, to regain the top position. This then translated to the U.S. beating China on App Store consumer spend, as well.
Contributing to the shift was the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on both China and the U.S.
The U.S. surpassed China on installs beginning in April and lasting all the way through June, the firm found.
China in Q2, meanwhile, was coming down from its own abnormally high number of downloads in March and April, due to COVID-19. But as its download figures began to normalize, the pandemic was wreaking havoc in the U.S., where it hit slightly later.
This led to the U.S. to see a surge in downloads, as suddenly the population was forced to work from home, attend school from home and entertain themselves at home with apps, games and streaming services.
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
Sensor Tower tells TechCrunch there was particularly significant growth in U.S. business and education apps in Q2, as a result. These categories were the largest contributors to the U.S. surpassing China’s installs.
Business app downloads grew 133.3% in Q2, followed by education (84.4%), health & fitness (57.7%), news 44.9%) and social networking (42.4%).
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
Video conferencing app Zoom, in particular, had a breakout quarter and even shattered the record for App Store installs, with nearly 94 million total downloads in a single quarter. The prior record had been set by TikTok, which had in Q1 2020 seen 67 million downloads in a single quarter. No other non-game app has ever surpassed 50 million installs in a quarter, Sensor Tower noted.
TikTok still had a strong Q2, with nearly 71 million App Store downloads in the quarter, representing 154% year-over-year growth. Its top two download markets were both the U.S. and China — the latter where it’s known as Douyin.
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
Mobile gaming was also a big hit in the U.S., as people stayed home under government lockdowns. Top mobile games by App Store downloads included titles like Save The Girl, Roblox, Go Knots 3D, Coin Master, Tangle Master 3D, Fishdom, ASMR Slicing, Call of Duty: Mobile and others.
On this front, Roblox had a stellar quarter as kids stayed at home and went online gaming, due to being disconnected from school and their playmates in real life. Roblox’s gaming app shot up the U.S. rankings from No. 11 in Q1 2020 to No. 2 in Q2, and achieved a new high of 8.6 million downloads in the quarter.
Rollic Games had two hits in the quarter, Go Knots 3D and Tangle Master 3D, each with over 5 million App Store downloads. Its Repair Master 3D title also came in at No. 20.
Both Zoom and Rollic Games were the only new top publishers to find themselves in the top 10 on the App Store in Q2, the report found.
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
Though the U.S. surpassed China in the quarter for the first time in years, the rest of the top five — Japan, Great Britain and Russia — remained the same as last quarter, though growing on a year-over-year basis.
Related to the surge of new downloads, the U.S. also surpassed China on consumer spending on the App Store for the first time since Q4 2018 — but that was only by 1.6% (around $53 million). In Q2 2020, the U.S. surpassed China by 14%, or about $717 million.
The U.S. also saw more significant quarter-over-quarter growth in spending during the COVID-19 outbreak, growing 20% between Q1 and Q2. In China, the consumer spending growth on the App Store was just 5% between Q4 2019 and Q1 2020, when it felt the full impact of the virus.

US beat China on App Store downloads for first time since 2014, due to coronavirus impact

This Week in Apps: WWDC goes online, coronavirus leads to more cancellations, sneaky spy apps exposed

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s recently released “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.
In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.
This week we’re taking a look at several stories related to the coronavirus outbreak, including the cancellation of WWDC in San Jose, as well as other app industry events that are going online. We’re also discussing the iOS 14 leak, the exposure of Sensor Tower’s app network, a potential ban on TikTok for government workers and more.
Coronavirus Special Coverage
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are continuing to play out on app stores and across the industry. This week, we’re leading with these stories followed by the other — and yes, still important — news.
Apple finally cancels its WWDC event in San Jose

This Week in Apps: WWDC goes online, coronavirus leads to more cancellations, sneaky spy apps exposed

Apple will finally let developers respond to App Store reviews

 Apple is finally going to give its developers a way to respond to customer reviews on its App Store and Mac App Store – a feature that’s long been available to Android developers on Google Play, much to the chagrin of the Apple developer community. According to developer documentation for the iOS 10.3 beta, when this version of Apple’s mobile operating ships,… Read More

Apple will finally let developers respond to App Store reviews