US legislators have passed a bill that could change how the Apple App Store and Google Play Store operate on smartphones. The bill could also have an impact on Epic Games’ ongoing legal battle with Apple, and could see Fortnite allowed back onto iPhones.
The Arizona House of Representatives passed bill HB2005, which would, among other things, prevent digital distribution platforms from requiring Arizona-based developers and consumers to use “a specific in-application payment system as the sole method of accepting payments”.
If it’s passed into law the bill would mean Google and Apple can no longer force people to use their Play Store or App Store distribution platform for purchases, and would have to give developers and users the choice of other options. The existing lack of choice is what forced Epic Games to try and circumvent Apple’s policies, leading to Fortnite being booted from iOS devices.
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This, in turn, could see Arizona become a hub for app developers, and home to giants like Epic Games, who are keen to avoid paying the so-called ‘Apple Tax’ - the 30% commission that Apple takes from every in-app purchase (or 15% if the developer makes less than $1 million per year).
When will Fortnite return to iOS?
Even if this bill does become law, it won’t immediately change much for Epic Games and Fortnite’s App Store availability. Epic isn’t based in Arizona, so it doesn’t fall under some provisions of the bill, and either way, Fortnite was banned from the App Store before this law would come into effect, so Apple might not have to reinstate it.
What form the new bill would take, and how it would be enforced, is yet to be seen, but one possible consequence is that Arizona iPhone users might be able to download apps through non-App Store distribution platforms – giving games like Fortnite, which are banned from the App Store, new routes onto iOS devices.
While at first sight the Arizona bill might not appear to have wider implications, we could also see Epic Games move its headquarters to Arizona. It would, in turn, become an Arizona developer, and as per this bill would be given new rights which could see it make a comeback for users in other states and countries.
What does this mean for the #FreeFortnite trial?
Epic Games is challenging Apple’s decision to remove Fortnite from the App Store after Epic tried to bypass the Apple Tax on in-app VBucks purchases. Epic further believes that Apple is running a monopoly and thinks that action needs to be taken by courts to change the status quo. Apple claims it had a right to remove Fortnite after Epic broke its developer terms of service agreement and believes there is nothing wrong with the current system.
It’s possible that this new Arizona bill would bolster the arguments of Epic’s lawyers in the upcoming trial, although it by no means guarantees Epic will win. The Epic Games vs Apple lawsuit is taking place in a California district court, and is dealing with federal law – that is, US national law that applies in every state, rather than state law, which only applies in individual states.
This means that Judge Gonzalez Rogers, who is presiding over the case, would not be bound by the decisions of Arizona lawmakers – and her ruling could even override the Arizona bill if it becomes law if she chooses to side with Apple.