AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
For the first time, the CEO of the world's most valuable company defended that company in court. Apple CEO Tim Cook testified in a lawsuit that centers on a key feature of iPhones and iPads - the App Store. The maker of the hit video game Fortnite says the way Apple runs its App Store hurts consumers and drives out competition. NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn has been covering the federal trial in Oakland and joins us now. And, of course, Bobby, we should note Apple is among NPR's financial supporters. And let's start with the courthouse itself, though. What was the scene like there?
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Yeah. So I was standing at the courthouse's entrance, you know, early this morning with the rest of the media scrum waiting for Tim Cook to arrive. He, of course, is the trial's star witness. Everyone had their cameras out, ready to go. But then, Cook dodged the spotlight. He basically slunk through a side door in the parking lot. As he was going through security, though, he did flash a peace sign at the cameras.
CORNISH: Now, I said earlier that this is about Fortnite arguing they're hurting consumers and driving out competition with the App Store. What more can you tell us in the way of background?
ALLYN: Exactly. So at a very high level, this trial is about the power that Apple has over the 1 billion iPhones in circulation around the world. And so specifically, Apple not only controls the stores where we download apps but also controls how payments are processed. And Apple, you know, tacks on this 30% commission. Take the game Fortnite. That's what this trial is all about, right? If you're playing it on your iPhone and you want to be dressed like, say, a creepy bear, you can get it through the app. Boom. You got the creepy bear outfit - great.
But what you don't see, Audie, is that 30% of your money is actually going to Apple. And the maker of Fortnite, Epic Games, says this shows that Apple is a monopoly. They call Apple's iPhone a walled garden because consumers have no choice. It's Apple or nothing. Epic argues that's illegal.
CORNISH: What did Tim Cook have to say in his testimony?
ALLYN: Yeah. Cook defended these fees. He says - you ever notice when you're on an iPhone that it's just less buggy and has less malware than maybe some other devices? He says that is because Apple has a very rigorous review process, and it's paid for by these fees. Cook says it's all about maintaining Apple's high bar for data privacy and for safety.
But the most startling moment today came when the judge, Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, drilled into Cook over a series of very, very sharp questions. Until this point, I should note, you know, most people assumed that Apple had the upper hand in the trial, but Rogers dressed down Cook. I mean, it really changed the game. The judge said over and over that there appears to be a lack of competition on Apple's App Store. And she called this, quote, "troubling." The judge asked Cook, what's so wrong with giving iPhone gamers a little bit of choice? - because right now, Audie, they don't have it.
CORNISH: What's next in the trial?
ALLYN: Yeah. So it'll wrap up next week, and the judge warned that it's going to be some time before she rules. She has a mountain of evidence. The law is largely on Apple's side here, but the questions today from the judge have thrown real uncertainty into the final verdict. I mean, she could force Apple to let developers process their own payments. Time will tell. But if nothing else, Audie, this trial has really drawn some negative publicity to the practices that developers, you know, only really dared to whisper about before this because Apple has just such immense power over them.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Bobby Allyn in Oakland, Calif. Thanks for following.
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