Epic Games just lost its massive iPhone lawsuit (again) — here's what it means for you

App Store icon logo on an iPhone 12 Pro
(Image credit: James Yarema / Unsplash)

Apple has once again seen its App Store business model on iPhone affirmed by the courts in its ongoing legal battle with Fortnite developer Epic Games. 

In a ruling this week the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals fell squarely behind the previous ruling of Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who oversaw the blockbuster lawsuit in 2021. 

The legal case is one of the most important in Apple's history, and arguably larger than the mammoth patent dispute with Samsung it had many years ago. At its heart, Epic Games wants to break open Apple's tight grip on the way users download software and apps on the iPhone and iPad, and the way users and developers have their transactions handled. 

Appeal upheld

As reported by Bloomberg, judges in the appeal case have upheld the ruling handed down by the previous case. That court ruled in Apple's favor on nine out of ten counts in the case, notably stating that Apple's App Store was not a monopoly. 

The only setback Apple suffered was a ruling that stated it was no longer allowed to stop developers from "steering" users to other potential marketplaces to buy their products through emails, buttons, or links, a ruling that was likewise upheld by the court. 

The appeals court did say that the first judge "erred" in defining the market, but said this was "harmless" and that Epic Games, which makes the popular game Fortnite, failed to "show its proposed market definition and the existence of any substantially less restrictive alternative means for Apple to accomplish the procompetitive justifications supporting iOS’s walled garden ecosystem." 

The appeals court also agreed with Apple's strong push for privacy and security, stating the company " makes clear that by improving security and privacy features, it is tapping into consumer demand and differentiating its products from those of its competitors — goals that are plainly procompetitive rationales." 

In a statement to iMore Epic Games said "Apple prevailed at the 9th Circuit Court. Though the court upheld the ruling that Apple's restraints have "a substantial anticompetitive effect that harms consumers", they found we didn't prove our Sherman Act case.

Fortunately, the court's positive decision rejecting Apple's anti-steering provisions frees iOS developers to send consumers to the web to do business with them directly there. We're working on next steps."

What does this mean for me and my iPhone?

This ruling will have almost no impact on your iPhone, because Apple is fighting for the status quo. This latest victory ensures that things will remain largely unchanged on its best iPhones and iPads, with one App Store and one method of making payments for digital goods and services. 

However, there are rumblings that Apple could open up iOS 17 to third-party app stores as early as June with WWDC 2023, although this is likely to be a subtle change the company doesn't make any noise about. That could mean that companies like Epic Games, or Meta - which owns Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp - could have their own app stores on your iPhone, with different rules, payment methods, and more. 

Apple is doing this to line up with impending EU legislation, so it's expected these changes will not come to the U.S.

The other impact of this week's lawsuit ruling is that it could see Epic Games drop its crusade and bring Fortnite back to the iPhone as an app. The app has been gone for nearly three years, and the only way to play it on iOS is through Xbox Cloud Gaming. 

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9