Supreme Court Hearing Arguments Today That Will Decide The Future Of Apple And Other App Stores

Supreme Court
Mark Wilson / Getty Images

On Apple’s iPhone, App Store is capitalized, both words. It is not a generic app repository, or marketplace, or alternative ways in which one adds an app to the phone. No. App Store is specific, singular. It is so much the case that Apple has actually tried to sue to keep other app stores from calling themselves App Store.

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments that could change the way Apple (and everyone else) conceives of all app stores. Apple Insider summarizes what we know about the case of Apple v. Pepper.

“A contentious class action suit accusing Apple of holding and maintaining a monopoly on app distribution for the iPhone plus overcharging hits the Supreme Court on Monday, with the suit seeking millions of dollars —and it could potentially have wide-ranging implications industry-wide.”

“The US Supreme Court will today hear arguments in the case of Apple v Pepper, which maintains that the company has deliberately created a monopoly with the App Store. The claim is that Apple has then also used this monopoly to increase app prices.”

It is important to note that the case was initially brought back in 2011, but was not allowed to proceed. It was only last year that a ruling permitted the case to make its way to the Supreme Court.

App Store
  Dan Kitwood

In 2011, a lot of people were wondering if it was even possible for a company to have a monopoly of its own store. Apple does not allow just any app to appear on the App Store, exercising tight editorial curation over what a person is allowed to have on their iPhone or iPad.

This is not a problem on the Mac because the Mac can, and always has been able to side load apps, getting them directly from the developer, app resellers, or by any other means. There is a setting for the Mac that would lock it to App Store apps. But that is a user option and not at all a requirement.

While there is only one official way to load apps onto the iPhone, there have been other app stores such as Cydia. It was available to those willing to jailbreak their iPhone. A jailbreak could only be done by taking advantage of some type of bug or security exploit. It was in Apple’s best interest to close all security holes as soon as possible. This made it difficult for the jailbreak community to keep up.

There is also the matter of App Pricing. In 2011, apps were rather more expensive than they are now. Today, most apps on the store are free with in-app purchases, while others are as low as 99¢. The greater implication if Apple loses the case is that they might have to allow side-loading on the iPhone which will break their grip on what apps are allowed on the iPhone. It will also break their security model. We do not expect a final ruling until the summer of 2019.