OAKLAND, Calif. – The judge who will decide a case challenging Apple’s stranglehold on its iPhone app store indicated on Monday she would like to promote more competition but without dismantling a commission system that reaps billions of dollars for the technology powerhouse.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers isn’t likely to issue a decision until this summer. But she opened a window into her thoughts during a three-hour session with lawyers for Apple and its adversary, Cary, NC-based Epic Games, during the final day of a three-week trial in Oakland, California.

Gonzalez Rogers’ line of questioning suggested she sides with much of the defense that Apple has mounted to justify the 15% to 30% commissions it collects for in-app transactions on the iPhone to help pay for the technology powering its devices.

Epic Games, the maker of the popular videogame Fortnite, has been trying to prove the fees are the price-gouging tool of a monopoly hatched within the “walled garden” Apple has built around the iPhone, the app store, its software and other devices such as the iPad and iPod.

Other takes on  the trial

  • The three-week trial between Apple and “Fortnite” maker Epic Games ended Monday with a debate session between the two sides that is known in legal circles as a “hot tubbing.” U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers … opted for the debate format in lieu of traditionally lengthy closing arguments. In a barrage of tough questioning from lawyers from both sides, Gonzalez Rogers didn’t tip her hand as to what her final verdict will say. – Washington Post
  • The Apple vs. Epic Games antitrust trial closed today without closing arguments. Rather, the federal judge grilled both sides on the facts of the case and competition law.
  • It was a lot less dramatic than other trials, but it did give a lot of insight into the mind of the U.S. District Court judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who asked questions that revealed either her thinking or her devil’s advocacy. – VentureBeat
  • As she did earlier in the trial, Rogers hinted that she may be leaning toward something of a compromise with a ruling that would see Apple required to allow apps like Fortnite to direct users to make purchases on the web rather than in apps, something that’s currently forbidden by the ‌App Store‌ rules.
  • In this scenario, Apple would be required to relax its “anti-steering” restrictions, but the rest of the iOS ecosystem would remain untouched and would function as normal. – MacRumors
  • Today’s final arguments were delivered in a debate format. They started with the differences between competition in phone sales and competition for in app sales. And the judge has indicated that Apple’s defense is strong.
  • She said today it is Apple’s business strategy to create a particular kind of ecosystem that is incredibly attractive to its purchasers. She went on to say you know that that’s what you’re buying into and you choose to make that decision. The judge says her ruling won’t likely come for another two weeks. She has 100,000 of pages of documents to go through. – Channel 5, San Francisco

Judge’s ideas

To loosen Apple’s tight-fisted control, Epic wants Gonzalez Rogers to issue an order that would require Apple to open the iPhone and its other mobile products to rival app stores. Those alternatives would include Epic’s still-unprofitable app store, which charges a commission of just 12%.

Judge’s tough questions of Tim Cook could mean good news for Epic in antitrust suit

Apple’s app store, in contrast, has become far more profitable than its late co-founder, Steve Jobs, ever envisioned when he opened it 13 years ago. Precisely how profitable wasn’t revealed in the trial, although an Apple executive conceded the company had brought in at least $20 billion as of June 2017.

Gonzalez Rogers doesn’t seem to believe the fees are unreasonable, let alone illegal. That’s in part because because Apple’s commissions mirror those charged on in-app commissions by the app store feeding about 3 billion devices powered by Google’s Android software, as well as those imposed by major video game consoles — Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft ’s Xbox and Nintendo’s Switch.

The judge also seemed to support Apple’s right to maintain a rigidly controlled ecosystem of products that has won over consumers around the world, including many who pay more than $1,000 to buy an iPhone.

“Your formulation seems to ignore the reality that customers choose an ecosystem,” Gonzalez Rogers told Epic lawyer Gary Bornstein. “It is Apple’s business strategy to create a particular type of ecosystem that is incredibly attractive to purchasers, to its consumers. So if those consumers choose to enter into an ecosystem … that’s what you know you’re buying into.”

Tim Cook faces tough questions on competition from judge in Epic-Apple trial

Bornstein countered that most consumers don’t understand the extent they will be locked into Apple’s ecosystem and often pay scant attention to the costs of in-app purchases that are tiny compared to the price of an iPhone.

That still didn’t seem to convince Gonzalez Rogers that Apple is running on monopoly, but other statements made it clear she still might find the company is engaging in anticompetitive behavior. During some points in the trial, she has seemed trouble by a provision in Apple stores that forbids in-app notices that purchases can also be made through web browsers and other means that evade Apple’s commissions.

Apple contends allowing in-app links to other payment options besides its own would expose iPhones and other mobile devices to security and privacy threats. When facing some tough questioning from Gonzalez Rogers during his four-hour appearance on the witness stand Friday, Apple CEO Tim Cook also conceded that allowing links within apps to other payment options would undercut the company’s profits.

The judge revisited the issue during Monday’s session. At one point, she wondered aloud whether Apple could just allow apps to insert a notice reminding consumers that payments can made in web browsers, without posting a direct link to the checkout stand. That sort of notice, she mused, wouldn’t be much different than a merchant’s display of the different credit cards — Visa, Mastercard, America Express or Discover — that has long been a staple at cash registers.

During the course of their closing arguments, the lawyers for Epic and Apple each made dramatic pitches in an attempt to get Gonzalez Rogers to see things their respective ways.

Epic Games vs Apple: The Super Bowl of court cases – here’s why the lawsuit is so important

Bornstein repeatedly asserted that Apple is trying to paint itself as a “benevolent overlord” acting in the best interests of consumers and the developers of the 1.8 million apps now in the store, up from just 500 in 2008. “But it’s not enough to say, ‘We’re a great company, we’re doing well, and we’re a nice guy,’” Bornstein argued.

Apple lawyer Richard Doren reminded the judge that opening the iPhone to other app stores would weaken a security system that protects consumers and developers alike. Epic “wants Apple to drop its gloves, stand in the middle of the arena and take malware attacks through unreviewed apps,” Doren argued.

Gonzalez Rogers said last week that she hoped to issue her decision by Aug. 13. But on Monday warned she may need even more time to review thousands of pages of information submitted during the case.