Yes, Apple and Epic are still in a legal battle over in-app transactions in Fortnite. And apparently, a judge has said both Apple CEO Tim Cook and Craig Federighi, Apple’s perfectly coiffed senior vice president of software engineering, will need to be involved in the proceedings.
The news was first spotted by AppleInsider and the order itself reveals some interesting tidbits now that the public back-and-forth between Apple and Epic has died down a bit. What it boils down to is that Epic wanted some detailed documentation from Apple with regard to how the App Store is run. Makes sense, given the whole Apple-Epic beef centers around the 30% commission Apple takes from in-app purchases—the so-called Apple Tax.
However, just because Apple and Epic are no longer airing their drama in public statements and incredibly pointed social media videos, doesn’t mean the petty sniping hasn’t continued. For starters, it appears that the sheer amount of what Epic asked Apple to produce was massive. To that end, the court sided with Apple, chiding Epic not to ask for more data than is relevant or necessary to the case at hand.
The more entertaining bits revolve around who will be called for depositions. Specifically, Epic has asked for Apple CEO Tim Cook and possibly, software chief Craig Federighi. Initially, it appears Apple agreed that Tim Cook would testify—if they could limit his participation to four hours. Apple also apparently requested to send Erik Neuenschwander, who the court describes as being in charge of the App Store and Federighi’s subordinate, instead of Federighi himself.
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To that, Judge Thomas S. Hixon wrote the polite, legal equivalent of “haha, no.” With regard to the 4-hour time limit for Cook, Hixon wrote that the court did not find the request appropriate, as it’s not possible to “meaningfully assess how long this deposition should be until they see Cook’s documents.” Hixon then wrote that, yes, Cook has to show up and that the “length of his deposition can be addressed later.”
As for the Federighi question, Hixon also sided with Epic. “In meet and confer, Apple stated that Neuenschwander is in charge of the App Store,” he wrote. “In the letter brief, Apple states somewhat differently that Neuenschwander oversees privacy across Apple’s platforms and also asserts that he oversees a broad spectrum of privacy issues.”
Regardless of whatever it is that Neuenschwander does, the document notes the reason Epic asked for Federighi is that he’s the iOS honcho. The buck stops with him. It appears Hixon would agree, as he writes that documents “tend to show that Federighi is more of a decision-maker than Neuenschwander is, which seems inevitably true since he is his boss.” Hixon went on to write that Apple didn’t really give a good reason why Neuenschwander would be the better choice “other than to assure us that it has considered the issue and thinks it should be him.”
TL;DR: Neuenschwander can’t replace Federighi, and if Epic turns out to be wrong and Neuenschwander’s info is more relevant, then tough noogies.
The main takeaway here—aside from some beautiful passive-aggressive legal writing—is that two of Apple’s most influential executives will have to be involved in some capacity. The trial kicks off in July, and in the meantime, the next court filing deadline is Jan. 6, with another hearing on Jan. 8.
Correction, 12/21/2020, 11:55 am: A previous version of this article and headline incorrectly stated that a judge had “ordered” Tim Cook and Craig Federighi to testify in the Epic case. In fact, Cook volunteered to testify, while Federighi has been made a “document custodian,” which will determine, in part, which documents are collected as part of the discovery process by Epic’s legal team. We have updated the story and the headline to reflect this correction. We regret the error.