Epic won't be able to bring Fortnite back to the iPhone, even if it agrees to play by Apple's standard developer rules and restrictions, according to Epic CEO Tim Sweeney. The reason: Apple has "exercised its discretion not to reinstate Epic's developer program account at this time," according to an email sent by Apple counsel to Sweeney that the chief executive has since posted to Twitter. And it won't consider a request to do so until the "district court's judgement becomes final and unappealable."
"Apple lied," Sweeney said. "Apple spent a year telling the world, the court, and the press they'd 'welcome Epic's return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else.' Epic agreed, and now Apple has reneged in another abuse of its monopoly power over a billion users." As proof of Epic's willingness to abide by the developer program's rules, Sweeney posted an email sent to App Store chief Phil Schiller laying out Epic's intentions.
"If we get the account back, we'll bring Fortnite back to Mac as soon as possible, and we'll reincorporate Fortnite for iOS in our Unreal Engine development and testing process, which will benefit all of our mutual developers," Sweeney wrote in the email to Schiller. "Whether Epic chooses to bring Fortnite back to iOS consumers depends on whether and where Apple updates its guidelines to provide for a level playing field between Apple In-App Purchase and other methods of payment."
Sweeney was expressing concern about the Epic v. Apple verdict, which has forced Apple to allow developers to advertise and link to alternative payment options within mobile apps, and whether Apple would "adhere to the language of the court" and "allow apps to include buttons and external links that direct customers to other purchasing mechanisms without onerous terms or impediments to a good user experience."
The court did not suggest any one solution here, only striking from Apple's developer terms the guideline prohibiting the linking out to third-party payment options. And because Epic appealed the ruling, it's not clear whether Apple will have to comply in the 90-day deadline set forth by the judge's ruling. As it stands right now, Apple has yet to update its guidelines, and there isn't any agreed upon pathway for apps on iOS to begin advertising their own payment options on the web through links, buttons or other forms of in-app advertising. Sweeney, however, made clear in his email to Apple that Epic intended to republish Fortnite so it could advertise its own payment option within the app alongside Apple's system.
That said, in a Sept. 10th statement sent to the press, Apple said, “As we've said all along, we would welcome Epic's return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else. Epic has admitted to breach of contract and as of now, there's no legitimate basis for the reinstatement of their developer account."
Apple did not respond to Sweeney's concerns about the eventual implementation of the court's verdict. But it did sent a reply through its legal team. According to Apple's email, the iPhone maker points to Epic's "intentional breach of contract, and breach of trust" it committed by updating Fortnite in August of 2020 to include an alternative in-app payment system, the act that got Fortnite kicked off the iPhone and resulted in Epic's antitrust lawsuit against both Apple and Google.
Apple cites "Epic's duplicitous conduct" as another reason why it feels empowered not to reinstate the company's developer account, a necessary step in allowing Epic to republish apps on Apple's storefronts. It's unclear how long the appeals process will take, but Sweeney suggests it could be as long as five years.