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The legal conflict between Epic Games and Apple has already had some fairly substantial fallout. The court of public opinion pressed Apple and Google to reduce marketplace fees for developers on the App Store and Play Store, and a number of Apple’s antics have fallen under the scrutiny of politicians and the general public. The hearing also shined light on iMessage’s Apple exclusivity, with the company admitting that it kept the messaging platform from Android in order to create a lock-in effect. But apparently that stance wasn’t shared with everyone across the board. It turns out that Apple executive Eddy Cue wanted to bring iMessage to Android in 2013, only to be shut down by peers, as a new deposition shows.
It’s no secret that Apple maintains a number of proprietary products and services to keep its users from casually jumping to competing platforms, but few have been quite as successful as iMessage. In preparation for the trial beginning May 3rd, Epic Games filed a brief containing excerpts demonstrating Apple’s executive team made an intentional decision to limit iMessage to Apple’s own platforms.
The line of questioning in the depositions is aimed at demonstrating Apple’s use of platform lock-in to create a monopoly that keeps users reliant on the App Store and In-App Payment system, which came under fire when Epic launched a version of Fortnite that skirted Apple’s payment systems.
58. Apple has recognized the power that iMessage has to attract and keep users within its ecosystem.
a. As early as 2013, Apple decided not to develop a version of iMessage for the Android OS. (Cue Dep. 92:22-93:1.)
b. Mr. Cue testified that Apple “could have made a version on Android that worked with iOS” such that there would “have been cross-compatibility with the iOS platform so that users of both platforms would have been able to exchange messages with one another seamlessly”. (Cue Dep. 92:5-9; 92:11-16.)
c. However, Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering and the executive in charge of iOS, feared that “iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones”. (PX407, at ‘122.)
d. Phil Schiller, an Apple executive in charge of the App Store, agreed that Apple should not offer iMessage on Android devices. (Cue Dep. 92:18-93:1.)
e. In 2016, when a former Apple employee commented that “the #1 most difficult [reason] to leave the Apple universe app is iMessage . . . iMessage amounts to serious lock-in” to the Apple ecosystem, Mr. Schiller commented that “moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than help us, this email illustrates why”. (PX416, at ‘610; Cue Dep. 114:14-115:2.)
The statements cite Eddy Cue (SVP of Internet Software and Services) acknowledging Apple was capable of developing a version of iMessage for Android as early as 2013. However, Craig Federighi (SVP of Software Engineering) and Phil Schiller (SVP of Worldwide Marketing) expressed concerns that it would hurt the company if it made software available that removes an obstacle for people that may otherwise want to use Android. An additional comment by another Apple employee emphasizes that iMessage is the biggest factor in keeping people in Apple’s ecosystem and refers to it as “serious lock-in.”
The Verge adds more details to the conversation, citing the most recent deposition. Cue was a proponent of creating a full-time team working on bringing iMessage to Android in 2013. Following rumors that Google wanted to buy WhatsApp for $1 billion, Cue argued that Apple had to expand its platform to competitors in order to keep Google from dominating the messaging market (a distant fear given how scattershot the company’s current chat efforts are). Others, like Craig Federighi, were quick to argue that just having a better platform, like iMessages, wasn’t enough to dominate the social media market — he said that Google wanted to buy WhatsApp for that much money precisely because it already had so many users.
The Verge reconstructed the email exchange between Cue and Craig Federighi, highlighting the clashing opinions on the matter:
Cue: We really need to bring iMessage to Android. I have had a couple of people investigating this but we should go full speed and make this an official project…. Do we want to lose one of the most important apps in a mobile environment to Google? They have search, mail, free video, and growing quickly in browsers. We have the best messaging app and we should make it the industry standard. I don’t know what ways we can monetize it but it doesn’t cost us a lot to run.
Federighi: Do you have any thoughts on how we would make switching to iMessage (from WhatsApp) compelling to masses of Android users who don’t have a bunch of iOS friends? iMessage is a nice app/service, but to get users to switch social networks we’d need more than a marginally better app. (This is why Google is willing to pay $1 billion — for the network, not for the app.)…In the absence of a strategy to become the primary messaging service for [the] bulk of cell phone users, I am concerned [that] iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove an obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones.
Of course, there’s no technical limitation preventing Apple from developing iMessage for Android, and most people already assume this has been a strategic decision. Apple has never commented on whether it plans to build a version of iMessage for Android, but with these statements in the open, it’s easy to understand why there has been radio silence on the subject. It doesn’t look good for public opinion, and it may help Epic Games in making its case about unfair business practices toward developers, but the practice isn’t illegal and likely won’t draw attention from regulators — which means Apple is likely to stay the course. In other words, don’t expect iMessage to officially hit Android anytime soon.