Ben and Dan Volach are unlikely candidates to lead a developer insurgency against Apple Inc., a company whose products they deeply admire.
But the talkative Israeli brothers, who have a knack for finishing each other’s sentences, find themselves at the forefront of an “AppRising” against Apple AAPL,
and its increasingly controversial App Store.
“We love Apple as a company, but they have a very dark side,” says Ben, explaining the motivation behind a David v Goliath lawsuit that kick-started antitrust scrutiny and paved the way for Epic Games. Inc. The trial of. against Apple following the ouster of the mega-popular game “Fortnite” from the App Store. The brothers claim that Apple outright copied a feature of their messaging app, BlueMail, and then immediately started it from the App Store without warning.
Read more: ‘Fortnite’ impact could be epic on Big Tech’s antitrust investigations
“Apple is a monopoly. He dictates what he wants and how he wants to shape it, ”adds Dan. “It’s about the way they behave, not their products. The practice is disturbing. They should allow competition.
Ben, 37, and Dan, 43, decided to go after Apple and challenge its 30% developer commission on the App Store when no one else would. Now they find themselves at the forefront of a digital insurgency against the iPhone maker, neck and neck with Epic, Microsoft Corp. MSFT,
, Facebook Inc. FB,
, Spotify Technology Inc. SPOT,
, and other big names. A spokeswoman for Epic said the company had no comment on the Volachs’ pursuit.
The Volachs’ company, Blix Inc., is the only other private company to file an antitrust dispute against the iPhone maker in October 2019, which saw them work closely with the staff of Representative David Cicilline, DI, chairman of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, ahead of the July 29 Big Tech hearing. Apple CEO Tim Cook was briefly grilled over the App Store’s business practices, but defended his cut and insisted all of the store’s more than one million developers were being treated fairly. . A spokesperson for Cicillin declined to comment on the participation of the Volachs.
During the hearings, Representative Hank Johnson, D-Ga., Lobbied Cook: “Has Apple ever retaliated against or disadvantaged a developer who made public his frustrations with the App Store? “
“Sir, we do not retaliate or intimidate,” Cook said emphatically. “It is strongly against our corporate culture.”
Read more: Antitrust issues hurt but don’t break Big Tech CEOs in landmark hearing
What brought Cook and the Volachs there was Apple’s decision to introduce an app called Sign in With Apple, at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2019, which had a striking similarity to a feature of Blix’s BlueMail messaging app. Apple’s new feature allows users to generate a random email address for apps upon login, so they never need to pass personal information to a third party.
In 2018, BlueMail added a patented feature that does the exact same thing. Fueling the anxiety of the Volachs, Apple removed BlueMail from the Mac App Store days after debuting Sign in With Apple, highlighting their claim that Apple has manipulated the App Store to promote its own apps over its competitors.
A few months later, Blix sued Apple in a Delaware court, alleging patent infringement and violation of US antitrust laws.
Among their arguments: iPhone app developers over the years have repeatedly found that Apple has incorporated technology similar to theirs into its devices, often at no cost to users. For example, the flashlight apps that once thrived on the App Store were phased out after Apple incorporated them into iPhone screens.
An Apple spokesperson said BlueMail has been removed from the macOS store due to security concerns. Apple has attempted to work with Blix to bring the app back to the store and provide developers with a “level playing field,” the company said in a statement.
These are the perils of doing business on large digital platforms, where operators like Apple and Google often incorporate the best ideas proposed by developers, says James Currier, managing partner of venture capital firm NFX.
“We are developers. All we want to do is bring apps to consumers, ”says Ben Volach, who owns 20 patents and apps. “We are really worried about bringing innovation to the market. [Apple] rules the world and makes competition harder than ever. They act more like gatekeepers and need to behave more like innovators. “
Their decision was not taken lightly. Ben and Dan, who grew up in Haifa and divide their time between London and New Jersey, are not only avowed Apple fans, but they understand the vast influence of Apple’s App Store and GOOGL. Alphabet Inc.,
Blix, who claims to have data showing Apple has removed App Store rankings for products competing with Apple’s own apps, also believes Apple and Google are working together on pricing, which led to Google removing abruptly its BlueMail messaging app from its Play Store – 36 hours after Blix developers revealed they had been cooperating with House lawmakers.
“Google hit back at us for being outspoken on antitrust matters,” Volach said.
A Google spokesperson said in a written statement that the BlueMail app has been reinstated in the store. Volach countered that unfavorable media coverage forced Google’s hand after just 15 hours.
What emboldened the Volachs beyond outrage is their ability to devote the resources, time and effort to take on a giant like Apple, which has a market value of over $ 2,000 billion. .
As other small developers back down from their financial obligations, the Volachs have something of a cushion: In 2006, they sold their mobile messaging business, Followap, to a company called Neustar for around $ 140 million.
Still, most app developers live and die with Apple, as most of their income comes from distributing and selling on the store.
“Going public against the App Store is seen as a bite of the hand that feeds you and few developers are this daring,” Adam Landis, CEO of mobile analytics firm AdLibertas Inc., told MarketWatch. means no distribution, which means no new users, which means no growth.
But the Volachs – the flagship of an ideological campaign with the hashtag # fairness2020 and a website – are redoubling their efforts and calling on other developers hurt by Apple to join them and tell their story. Indeed, they did not rule out a class action.
“We are optimistic and we will continue to fight for them to change,” Ben said. “A lot of small businesses just don’t have the resources, the time, and the effort to fight Apple.”