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All of the secrets pouring out of the Apple-Epic trial

May 10, 2021, 2:25 PM UTC

The ongoing legal battle between Epic Games and Apple in an Oakland courtroom has lifted the lid off decades of previously unknown corporate dealings. Never-before-seen emails to and from Steve Jobs shed light on the late CEO’s strategic and managerial approaches. We’ve learned just about all there is to know about the finances of Epic’s hit game Fortnite, spotlighting the entire video gaming economy. And there are the private deals, so many private deals.

In one example, a 2018 slide deck from some Apple execs revealed special treatment Netflix received, including that Netflix was allowed to use non-public APIs in its app and review and approve all of Apple’s promotional stories about Netflix on the app store. Other dealings were related to Facebook, which wanted to offer a gaming platform in its iOS app, and Microsoft, which wanted to allow its Office 365 subscribers to use Office apps on the iPad. Hulu and maybe other major streaming services also got access to APIs not generally available to all apps.

Away from the trial, other previously unseen dealings between big tech companies are making headlines too.

Roku has one of the most popular platforms for streaming TV apps. And Google has two of the most popular apps for such platforms, with YouTube and YouTube TV. But it turns out there’s some wheeling and dealing that goes on between these two companies. Right now, they can’t come to an arrangement and new YouTube TV subscribers can’t add the app on their Roku boxes. But the more popular YouTube app is still available to all on Roku.

The two sides have offered conflicting versions of what’s at issue. Roku says Google demanded special treatment in search results and “sensitive data” no other partners receive. Google says it’s seeking to have Roku meet “our technical requirements,” which likely means adding support for the new AV1 video standard.

On Friday, Google came up with a workaround, saying it would just add the ability to watch YouTube TV from inside the basic YouTube app. Roku cried foul, saying Google’s moves “are the clear conduct of an unchecked monopolist bent on crushing fair competition and harming consumer choice.”

A deal may be in the offing, but it will probably take another antitrust trial or two before we see all those juicy behind-the-scenes emails and learn what really happened.


On a somewhat related note, the Epic-Apple trial will turn in part on whether Apple deals equally with all participants in its iOS app store (if the store is also found to be monopoly). And thus, some testimony about Roblox last week caught my attention.

Why is Roblox allowed to offer what seems like its own mini-game store within its app but Epic and many others cannot? Apple app review boss Trystan Kosmynka tried to claim Roblox didn’t have mini-games. “If you think of a game or app, games are incredibly dynamic,” he testified. “Games have a beginning and end, there’s challenges in place. I look at the experiences that are in Roblox similar to the experiences in Minecraft.”

No disrespect to Kosmynka, who maybe lacks kids of that certain age, but Roblox definitely includes games even using his definition and many apps offered as standalone games in Apple’s app store do not meet it.

For a deeper summary of the first week of the trial, Sarah Needleman at the Wall Street Journal has you covered.

Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

He giveth and he taketh away. Despite mediocre reviews of Elon Musk's SNL performance, the Tesla CEO sent dogecoin on a wild ride. Before his appearance, the crypto currency had rallied to a new all-time high of more than 70 cents. Upon hearing Musk's corny jokes, including a "to the moon" reference on Weekend Update, it plunged as low as 43 cents. But Sunday came news that SpaceX accepted dogecoin as payment for carrying a small satellite to the moon next year. That actually useful act pushed dogecoin back up to 50 cents this morning. In other Elon-adjacent news, a Tesla executive admitted to the California DMV that Musk had been exaggerating the capabilities of the company's Autopilot feature. “Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality," the DMV noted in a memo from March 9 recently made public, citing a call with Tesla's director of Autopilot software CJ Moore.

Sprung a cyber leak. Hackers used malware to cripple a pipeline that carries gasoline and other fuel from Texas to the northeast. Pipeline owner Colonial Pipeline said it was developing a "system restart" plan but did not say if it had paid or was negotiating a ransom with the hackers from the criminal gang known as DarkSide, the Associated Press reported. In other hacking news, German security researcher "Stack Smashing" said they had cracked the security on the chip inside Apple's new AirTags and modified the hardware. The hack required physical access to an AirTag to reprogram the chip.

Fakes all the way down. Having trouble finding a legit Pop socket on Amazon? The company's first-ever report on counterfeit goods arrived on Monday morning disclosing the company blocked over 10 billion fake product listings last year. That was a 67% increase from 2019. Amazon also removed 2 million counterfeit physical goods sent to its warehouses by third-party sellers.

I find your lack of faith disturbing. Speaking of Amazon, the company's legal battle to prevent the Pentagon from awarding a $10 billion cloud computing project known as JEDI to rival Microsoft may be succeeding, sort of. A growing chorus in Washington wants to scuttle the contract completely because it relies on choosing a single cloud service to meet all of the military's computing needs. Instead, the Pentagon may follow the lead of large corporations which often use a so-called multi-cloud approach and don't rely on one service.

Hubbub chouse. Once ultra-hot startup Clubhouse will soon let the other half experience its chatty online ecosystem. The currently iOS-only startup launched a beta app on Android on Sunday, saying it would collect feedback during a limited release for a few weeks before making the app more broadly available.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

One reason people don't trust automated driving systems is that they overestimate their own human driving skills and the safety of being in a car, and by a lot, according to a searing essay by reporter Joshua Sharpe for The Atlantic. Sharpe has been in two serious crashes, neither his fault. His piece is called "We Should All Be More Afraid of Driving."

I came across a study in which researchers found that almost 40 percent of people involved in car accidents developed PTSD. Symptoms: frequent, intrusive thoughts or dreams about the accident; fear of driving; feeling isolated even from close loved ones; insomnia—and intense guilt, whether the person was at fault or not.

J. Gayle Beck, a psychology professor at the University of Memphis, is one of a handful of researchers who studies PTSD linked to car wrecks. Being in a serious accident, she told me, “violates our beliefs about how life should be and who we are.” We think we’re in control of what happens on the road. If we’re in control, then we must be responsible.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

A new cryptocurrency claims to be an eco-friendly Bitcoin alternative. Is chia worth a look? By Anne Sraders

What percent of unicorns fail? By Lucinda Shen

Dogecoin is now worth more than these corporate giants—even after this weekend’s epic collapse By Bernhard Warner

A favorite among punk rockers, Dr. Martens is reborn as a buzzy hot stock By Eric J. Lyman

Supply-chain restrictions on China actually hurt American companies By Andy Purdy

How to grow talent at senior levels By Hannah Storm

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BEFORE YOU GO

Did you watch Elon on SNL? He was obviously a bit nervous but didn't embarrass himself. Some of his sketches were pretty mediocre, which is on the writers, not the CEO. And he seemed to get better as the night went along. Here are my insta-grades for his biggest bits, with links to the YouTube videos:

Opening monologue: D- (OJ jokes, really?)
Post quarantine conversation: B (awkward is as awkward does)
Gen Z Hospital: B+ (pretty minor role)
Weekend update: B (dogecoin to the moon)
Cowboy standoff: B+ (again leaning into awkward)
Chad on Mars: A+ (perfectly cast–as himself)
Wario: A (perfectly captured the video game. And now we'll have GIFs of Musk saying he's "not evil" forever)

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