The legal conflict between Epic Games and Apple has already had some fairly substantial fallout. The court of public opinion has already pressed Apple and Google to reduce marketplace fees for developers on the App Store and Play Store, and a number of Apple’s antics have fallen under the scrutiny of politicians and the general public. Now a new court filing from Epic Games is opening up the can of worms that is iMessage.
It’s no secret that Apple maintains a number of proprietary products and services to keep its users from casually jumping to competing platforms, but few have been quite as successful as iMessage. In preparation for the trial beginning May 3rd, Epic Games filed a brief containing excerpts of testimony demonstrating Apple’s executive team made the explicit decision to limit iMessage to Apple’s own platforms.
The statements cite Eddy Cue (SVP of Internet Software and Services) acknowledging Apple was capable of developing 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 concerns that it would hurt the company if it made software available that removes an obstacle for people that may otherwise want to use Android. An additional comment by another Apple employee emphasizes that iMessage is the biggest factor in keeping people in Apple’s ecosystem and refers to it as “serious lock-in.”
58. Apple has recognized the power that 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 OS. (Cue Dep. 92:22-93:1.)
b. Mr. Cue testified that Apple “could have made a version on Android that worked with iOS” such that there would “have been cross-compatibility with the iOS platform so that users of both platforms would have been able to exchange messages with one another seamlessly”. (Cue Dep. 92:5-9; 92:11-16.)
c. However, Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering and the executive in charge of iOS, feared that “iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones”. (PX407, at ‘122.)
d. Phil Schiller, an Apple executive in charge of 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 most difficult [reason] to leave the Apple universe app is iMessage . . . iMessage amounts to serious lock-in” to the Apple ecosystem, Mr. Schiller commented that “moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than help us, this email illustrates why”. (PX416, at ‘610; Cue Dep. 114:14-115:2.)
Of course, there’s no technical limitation preventing Apple from developing iMessage for Android. The context of the questions in this testimony is focused on the use of platform lock-in for the purpose of directing money into the App Store and In-App Payment system, which came under fire when Epic launched a version of Fortnite that skirted around Apple’s payment systems.
Apple has never commented before on plans regarding a version of iMessage for Android, but with these statements in the open, it’s easy to understand why there has been radio silence on the subject. While these details won’t be good for public opinion, and it may help Epic Games in making its case about unfair business practices toward developers, the practice isn’t illegal and likely won’t draw attention from regulators — which means Apple is likely to stay the course.