Matt Zarandi logo

What caught my eye in tech: August 2020

Every month in 2020, I’m going to be sharing the top 5 interesting things in tech that have caught my eye. Enjoy!

1.Fortnite kicked off the Apple App Store

The Apple App Store, since its creation, has been one of the driving success factors of the iPhone and Apple. With over 2.2 million apps generating approximately $50bn in gross sales per year, it’s also a huge source revenue with Apple taking home a 30% cut of every transaction. Whilst enforcement of App Store rules and regulations have always been a bit of a grey area, one thing that has always been clear is in-game transactions must occur through Apple’s payment system. 

Fortnite creator Epic Games took the decision to challenge this and the App Store model as a whole, by including a direct in-game payment option that bypassed Apple’s own. Apple was swift to remove Fortnite from the App Store (Google also followed suit on the Play Store) and set an August 28th deadline to fall in line or have its developer account removed. In a game of chicken, neither party backed down and currently, Fortnite is no longer available on the App Store. 

This was certainly no accident and I would presume Epic Games knew exactly what they were doing and where this could end up. In a subsequent lawsuit and after multiple PR stunts (check out the video below), Epic has stated they’re fighting for the freedom for developers to choose how they wish to accept payments. Of course, Apple on the other hand claims their strict rules protect their customers. Who will win is anyone’s guess but it’s likely that changes are coming in how the App Store operates, and perhaps they may be forced.

With Apple also fighting another App Store related lawsuit against them from Spotify, in addition to being involved in the US antitrust hearing covered last month, challenges to the App Store model are coming thick and fast. Claims like these have come about before but certainly not to this scale and it feels like a tipping point has been reached. 

More on Fortnites removal via The Verge

2. Apple blocks game streaming on iOS

Staying with Apple and the App Store, Apple announced this month that it won’t be allowing game streaming apps in the store. The announcement comes as Google’s Stadia and Microsoft’s XCloud services are hitting the digital shelves. 

These services allow for power-hungry games to be streamed to a screen, without requiring the expensive hardware locally to run it. All the computing happens in the cloud meaning you’re always using the latest tech and only having to pay a low monthly subscription cost for the privilege. It’s realistic to go as far as to think that this generation of PlayStation and Xbox will be the last of their kind.

So if this is the future, why is Apple so keen to block it? The obvious case as seen in the previous news item is that Apple wants its 30% cut. Access to hundreds of games via a monthly payment versus having to individually purchase each game will drive far less revenue. However, to play devil’s advocate, Apple again wants to protect its customers and ensure they get the best experience. If games are streamed they can’t be vetted.

With gaming being a key sales driver for folks to buy into the Apple ecosystem, what happens if Google and Microsoft create a better offering and Apple no longer has the best games? Will folks be willing to move to Android if Apple decides to continue on this path? It seems further changes for the App Store’s guidelines can be expected. 

More on Apple’s announcement via The Verge

3. The TikTok sale drama continues

TikTok recently hired Kevin Mayer, former Head of D2C Content at Disney, to take on the role of CEO. Less than 6 months later he quit. This begs the question, what does he know that we don’t? It’s clear the scope of his role would have been vastly different from what he signed up to originally, however it still remains quite a shock. 

This isn’t the only headline-grabbing news in the saga. Since covering Microsoft’s offer to acquire TikTok’s US business in last month’s round-up, Oracle, Netflix, and even Walmart have joined the race!

How this one ends up is anyone’s guess but with the Trump administration setting a deadline of September 15th for the sale, not much time is left to avoid facing a ban.

More on Mayers departure via The Verge

4. Australia plans to tax tech companies to subsidise publishers

Whilst I haven’t worked in publishing for coming up to 3 years now, I still like to keep an eye on the industry and how it’s overcoming its challenges. Sustainable revenue generation is something that tends to stay at the top of that list and Australia is planning to help its own through a new tax. In a recent draft proposal, the government is pitching that companies such as Facebook and Google should pay publishers to link out to their content.

This plan is for want of a better phrase, nonsensical. Whilst I do agree something should change, this plan creates more problems than it solves. If Google for instance sends traffic to a publisher and has to pay them, then surely that same rule applies to traffic it sends to promoters of hate speech. In addition, with a current threshold set that the publisher must already be generating over $150k in annual revenue to qualify, it excludes smaller companies and creates an unfair advantage for the established media. Let’s hope this plan gets a rethink.

More on Australias tech tax via The Guardian

5. Google Maps gets a fresh coat of paint

With stiff competition from Apple’s own maps app, Google is keeping its foot firmly pressed on the accelerator in improving its own offering. In this latest update, Google has focused on bringing greater granularity and detail to the service as a whole, with particular attention paid to the major cities of the world. 

Amongst the changes are a host of updates that allow for people to navigate better on foot, or via alternative modes of transport. Where pavements and road crossings are situated, and even more accurate depictions of their widths, are just some of the features that will help in navigating cities easier. 

With COVID-19 forcing many changes to how we transport ourselves across urban environments, particularly without the use of public transport, these new additions couldn’t come at a better time. 

More on the new additions to Google Maps via TechCrunch

You reached the bottom! Thanks for reading. Up next: What caught my eye in tech: July 2020 arrow right icon