Facebook's Gaming app has been rejected from Apple's App Store, according to The New York Times. The app was introduced in April as a hub where people can watch live streams and play casual games, but Apple apparently decided the latter meant it was competing with the App Store by attempting to distribute games, which provide a lucrative stream of revenue for the company.
Chance timing? — Apple has been under intense scrutiny as of late for the tight grip it wields over developers in its App Store, which is the only place iOS users can download apps for their devices. Earlier this week the developer of HEY Email attacked Apple on Twitter for threatening to yank its app. HEY Email requires users to subscribe to its $99 per-year service through the web so it can avoid forking over a 30 percent fee to Apple, which didn't make that company too happy.
The news of Facebook Gaming's rejection also coincidentally comes the same week as the European Union confirmed that it's investigating Apple's treatment of developers on anti-trust grounds. Spotify has long pushed the EU to take action against the company, arguing that Apple squeezes competition by giving preferential treatment to its own services, which are pre-installed on all iOS devices and not subject to a commission. Spotify doesn't allow users to subscribe through its iOS app for that reason.
Apple argues the fees are necessary to maintain the App Store and protect consumers from shady apps, but developers say the fees and rules around what's acceptable are excessive. Developers have little say over the matter due to iOS and Android being the predominant mobile operating systems that everyone use.
Facebook, we see you — Is it possible that someone at Facebook leaked the news of its rejection opportunistically as a way to jump in on the dogpile? We'd like to think so — this may truly be one of the few times Facebook has done something good, if it helps weaken Apple's control.
Facebook already has an acrimonious relationship with Apple, whose CEO Tim Cook has previously criticized the company over its differing attitude towards privacy.
Considering that Apple is pushing hard to make money from software and services, the company's decision with Facebook Games isn't a terrible surprise. Games are the top-grossing category on the App Store in terms of sales, and Apple doesn't want to lose that revenue. But Apple also has a history of enforcing its policies haphazardly, such as in the case of letting Spotify slide by without in-app subscriptions while forcing HEY Email to offer them. Facebook has plenty of money, and lobbyists that it can deploy — making this move now seems like asking for trouble.
Microsoft also jumped in the fray today, with its president Brad Smith saying that Apple's anti-competitive behavior is even worse than Microsoft's was in the 1990s, when it famously got sued by the U.S. government because it pre-installed Internet Explorer on Windows computers and made it difficult for customers to install alternatives like Netscape. Despite seeing its reputation badly bruised by the case, Microsoft remains one of the most valuable companies in the world. In other words, Apple will probably be fine even if it rightly loses some control.