By Emily Bary
WWDC preview: Apple expected to unveil new privacy, home-screen software upgrades at annual developer event as it waits to hear judge's decision in trial accusing the company of illegally using monopoly power with App Store rules
Apple Inc. is heading into its biggest developer event of the year as tensions with the developers who build apps for its App Store continue to simmer.
The company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference, or WWDC, kicks off Monday as Apple awaits a ruling on a lawsuit brought by Epic Games, the maker of the popular "Fortnite" game. Apple (AAPL)booted Fortnite from the App Store last year following a dispute over Apple's in-app payment policies (), and the two companies just finished arguing their respective cases in federal court.
For more: The (predicted) verdict is in for Epic vs. Apple ()
Apple's sprawling mobile ecosystem relies on third-party developers who build apps for devices like the iPhone and iPad, and Apple takes a cut of purchases made through these apps in what's become a lucrative business of still-unknown size (). Epic contends that Apple's fee structure, which can run as high as 30% of in-app purchases, is monopolistic ( ), while Apple argues that the market for app distribution is competitive ( ).
Though a decision in the Apple-Epic case isn't expected until late summer, the lingering legal battle will be the elephant in the room once again when Apple virtually addresses developers and unveils new features for its various operating systems. Experts doubt that the judge will plainly rule Apple a monopoly in the Epic case (), but she could ask for changes to the company's App Store purchase model, such as an additional payment option beyond Apple Pay.
See also: As Epic fight puts all eyes on App Store revenue, Apple offers numbers that aim much larger ()
Controversy over the App Store loomed during last year's event as well, in the wake of a dispute between Apple and the developers behind the Hey email app (), who took issue with App Store fees and rules. Back then, Apple executives avoided talk of App Store policies in their keynote address, though the company then quietly announced that it planned to create a way for developers to challenge App Store guidelines.
The Epic trial represents just one challenge to the App Store notes Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives, who pointed to "impending regulatory antitrust swirls" in a recent note to clients. European Union antitrust regulators are taking aim at App Store rules () following a complaint from Spotify ( ) Inc. (SPOT), which competes against Apple in streaming music and but relies on the App Store for distribution.
Undertones of other Big Tech battles will be on display as well during the WWDC virtual event. Apple has criticized Facebook Inc.'s (FB) data-tracking efforts and introduced a way for users to control how apps can track their activity (), and the company could roll out additional initiatives with its coming iOS 15 software update. The company is planning to introduce a menu showing apps that are collecting user data behind the scenes, according to Bloomberg ( ).
For more: Why Facebook and Apple are at war ()
Other new operating-system features could include an upgraded iPad home screen, enhanced messaging functions and new notification settings that can change depending on whether a user is asleep or working, according to Bloomberg.
While WWDC has been historically focused on software upgrades, this year's event could bring at least one hardware announcement. Apple is reportedly working on upgraded MacBook Pro models, which would come in 14-inch and 16-inch screen sizes and feature "next-generation versions" of Apple's custom chips (), according to Bloomberg. The computers would also bring back MagSafe charging and an HDMI port, that report said.
Apple's new MacBook Pros "are expected to debut as soon as early this summer," per Bloomberg, which cited multiple unnamed sources.
Ives expects that a MacBook Pro release could be one of the "surprises" coming out of this WWDC, and he'll also be looking for "breadcrumbs" about Apple's augmented-reality ambitions, writing that "developers crave bigger AR functionality."
-Emily Bary; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 04, 2021 12:47 ET (16:47 GMT)
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