Apple Criticism Chorus Grows: Coinbase, Musk, Meta, Spotify, Fortnite

Rotten: 5 big tech CEO's who are taking a stand against Apple. Inside: Apple criticism from Coinbase, Musk, Meta, Spotify, Fortnite and more.

Justin Nugent

This article was last updated on 12/02/2022.

AAPL, apple, apple criticism, apple musk, apple Elon, apple twitter, apple Coinbase, apple App Store criticism

Apple’s App Store has been a titan of industry for a long time — and apparently there’s been no shortage of enemies and toes stepped on along the way. Apple came under fire recently when Elon Musk took aim at the Apple App Store’s “hidden 30% fee” with a series of tweets (some of which are now deleted).

Image retweeted by Musk. Source: Twitter

Among Musk’s criticisms was a claim that Apple had once threatened to remove Twitter from the App Store altogether, “without giving a reason.” Musk had also claimed that Apple had “mostly stopped advertising on Twitter” asking:

This was just one of several tweets, including one where Musk gave a nod to Fortnite, which is currently embroiled in a lengthy court battle with the iPhone maker. Fortnite has been open about its criticisms over Apple App Store policies, even going as far to make custom skins and a minor storyline depicting the villain as an angry, suit-wearing Apple. 

However, it appears Apple has peeled at least one of its enemies.

After a lengthy conversation which included a tour of the Apple campus led by CEO Tim Cook, the beef had apparently been squashed.  

However, while Musk’s quarrel with Apple is now over, his criticism has opened the floodgates for CEO’s of other companies to share their criticism of Apple’s policies.

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Spotify CEO Daniel Ek Criticizes Apple

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek posted a Twitter thread on Wednesday which made no bones about how he felt regarding Apple’s App Store policies. 

The Twitter thread pointed out that criticism against Apple’s policies is not a new phenomenon. Entities noted by Ek to at one time or another be at odds with Apple’s App Store policies included: 

  • The European Commission
  • EU Parliament Member Andreas Schwab
  • Coalition for App Fairness (Nonprofit founded by developers)
  • Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney
  • Microsoft President Brad Smith
  • Proton Privacy CEO Andy Yen
  • Eat Sci-Fi CEO Joshua March
  • White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
  • Senator Marsha Blackburn
  • Senator Richard Blumenthal
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar

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Though Ek’s list was long, it was only scratching the surface, as more of tech’s top minds would soon come out of the woodwork in support of the fight against Apple’s policies.

Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg Criticizes Apple

On Thursday, December 1st, Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg called out Apple policies at the New York Times Dealbook Summit. Apple’s privacy policy changes have long had a negative impact on Zuckerberg’s business, damaging Facebook’s ability to harvest the data of its user base. 

At the Summit, Zuckerberg said that the policies behind the Apple App Store are not “sustainable” or “a good place to be”,

“Apple has singled themselves out as the only company trying to control unilaterally what apps get on the device.”

Zuckerberg added that it was “problematic.” 

Mark also gave some kudos to Musk, seeming to take the other side of the “one entity should not be the all-decider of what content stays or goes on a platform” argument, when he said, 

“You can agree or disagree with what Elon is doing, but I do think it’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out in terms of he’s taking.”

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Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong Criticizes Apple

Like Zuckerberg, this isn’t Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong’s first go at criticizing Apple. In April of 2022, Armstrong noted that Apple’s crypto rules were possibly in breach of antitrust policies. “Apple hasn’t played nice with crypto. They’ve banned a bunch of features that we would like to have in the app,” seeming to nod towards the idea of adding a hard wallet feature or “crypto-compatible” phones. 

Now, Armstrong is back in the news. On Thursday, December 1st, following Zuckerberg’s most recent comments, Coinbase told customers via a Twitter thread that the exchanging of NFTs via Apple’s iOS would no longer be possible. 

“Apple’s claim is that the gas fees required to send NFTs need to be paid through their In-App Purchase system, so that they can collect 30%. For anyone who understands how NFTs and blockchains work, this is clearly not possible. Apple’s proprietary In-App Purchase system does not support crypto so we couldn’t comply even if we tried.”

The Core of the Issue

Apple has long been the kingmaker of its App Store ecosystem. The makers of the most popular invention of the 21st century have been able to tax and regulate their way to the top, stepping on more than a few toes along the way. 

The biggest company by market cap, Apple has been mostly silent on the latest criticism — save for quickly squashing the beef with Elon over tea at the Apple campus. But with regulation beginning to catch up to Apple, and momentum clearly growing as of late, will Apple soon be forced to relinquish its tight grip over the content and fees inside its app ecosystem? 

And if so, how hefty of a blow would it be to Apple’s bottom line? When Apple initiated privacy changes, this question was asked of Facebook. While this wasn’t Facebook’s only problem, it certainly assisted in cutting Facebook’s market cap to a fraction of what it once was. 

The lesson: Don’t get too comfortable. When you’re at the top, there’s only one way left to go. 

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