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Apple accuses Epic of “theft” in countersuit over iOS Fortnite

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Enlarge / Apple says the example here, showing Fortnite‘s alternative payment scheme on iOS, amounts to “theft” by Epic Games.

Apple is going on the offensive in its continuing legal battles with Epic Games over the iOS version of Fortnite. In a wide-ranging motion filed Tuesday afternoon, Apple defended itself against Epic’s legal charges while also accusing the Fortnite maker of breach of contract and outright theft in a countersuit.

“Although Epic portrays itself as a modern corporate Robin Hood, in reality it is a multi-billion dollar enterprise that simply wants to pay nothing for the tremendous value it derives from the App Store,” Apple writes.

Who pays for what?

In its own legal filings, Epic in part seeks the right to provide what it calls “competitive payment processing on iOS” by going around the in-app purchase system built into the iOS App Store. Epic attempted to do this unilaterally last month by adding a discounted Epic Direct Payments option to the iOS version of Fortnite, a move that led Apple to bar Epic from the App Store entirely.

Besides being a breach of contract, Apple says in its motion that Epic’s addition of Direct Payments was a “Trojan Horse” that amounts to “little more than theft.” By using a “hotfix” update method that was deliberately concealed from the usual App Store review process, Apple says Epic “sought to enjoy all of the benefits of Apple’s iOS platform and related services while [lining] Epic’s pockets at Apple’s expense.”

Later in the motion, Apple says Epic’s introduction of Direct Payments in the game “is theft, period.”

Epic has happily agreed to Apple’s contractual terms to access iOS development since 2008, Apple writes, earning over $600 million from App Store sales in that period. The fact that Epic no longer accepts that deal “does not provide cover for Epic to breach binding contracts, dupe a long-time business partner, pocket commissions that rightfully belong to Apple, and then ask this Court to take a judicial sledgehammer to one of the 21st Century’s most innovative business platforms simply because it does not maximize Epic’s revenues,” Apple writes.

The 30 percent iOS sales commission that Epic tried to get around is much more than a simple fee for processing payments, Apple adds. Instead, that fee “reflects the immense value of the App Store, which is more than the sum of its parts and includes Apple’s technology, tools, software for app development and testing, marketing efforts, platinum-level customer service, and distribution of developers’ apps and digital content.” That includes over 150,000 APIs that Apple has created to ease iOS development, the company writes, as well the Metal graphics API that Epic itself has praised in the past.

“The App Store is not a public utility,” Apple wrote in a letter to Epic in July in response to Epic’s request. Epic has no right to reap “all the benefits Apple and the App Store provide without having to pay a penny,” the company said.

No, you can’t have your own App Store

In its own recent filings, Epic says it “does not seek to force Apple to provide distribution and processing services for free, nor does Epic seek to enjoy Apple’s services without paying for them.”

Instead, Epic says it would like “the freedom not to use Apple’s App Store or IAP, and instead to use and offer competing services” on Apple’s hardware, just as it can on Windows PCs. That’s not possible, though, because of what Epic says is Apple’s monopolistic control over the market for all iOS software.

Apple says directly in its motion that it “is not a monopolist of any relevant market” and that “competition both inside and outside the App Store is fierce at every level: for devices, platforms, and individual apps.” More than that, though, Apple says the requirement that all iOS purchases go through the App Store infrastructure is necessary to “ensure that iOS apps meet Apple’s high standards for privacy, security, content, and quality.”

Apple cites Epic’s own example on other platforms as proof of this necessity. When Epic started distributing the Android version of Fortnite independently in 2018, Apple writes that “immediately sites appeared that not only advertised Android Fortnite but also distributed malware in the game.” Apple also cites security vulnerabilities in that independently distributed Android version as evidence that its iOS protections are necessary.

“Although Apple does not leave it to any developer to keep the iOS platform safe and secure, Epic in particular had demonstrated that it could not be entrusted with this type of responsibility,” Apple writes.

In addition to compensatory and punitive damages related to the breach of contract and other related violations, Apple is seeking an injunction preventing Epic from continuing to use its own external payment processing mechanism in extant copies of the iOS version of Fortnite or future apps.

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New USB-C dock triples M1 Mac external monitor support, Anker says

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If you have an M1-based Mac, Apple says you’re limited to just one external monitor. But Anker, which makes power banks, chargers, docks, and other accessories, this week released a dock that it says will boost your M1 Mac’s max monitor count to three.

The 4250 Anker 563 USB-C docking station, spotted by MacRumors, connects to a USB-C port on your computer (which doesn’t have to be a Mac) and can also charge a laptop at up to 100 W. Of course, you’ll also need to plug in the dock’s 180 W power adapter. Once connected, the dock adds the following ports to your setup:

  • 2x HDMI (version not specified)
  • 1x USB-C (3.1 Gen 1): charges devices at up to 30 W
  • 1x USB-A (3.1 Gen 1): charges devices at up to 7.5 W
  • 2x USB-A (2.0)
  • 1x 3.5 mm headphone jack
  • 1x Ethernet
Port selection.
Enlarge / Port selection.

You’ll need the two HDMI ports and DisplayPort to add three monitors to an M1 MacBook. There are some notable limitations, though.

If you were hoping to use a trio of 4K displays, you’re out of luck. The dock can only support one 4K monitor at a time, and the output will be limited to a 30 Hz refresh rate. Most general-use monitors and TVs run at 60 Hz, and monitors can reach up to 360 Hz. 4K monitors will even hit 240 Hz this year. Running 4K at 30 Hz may be fine for watching movies, but for fast-paced action, things may not appear as smooth to keen eyes used to 60 Hz and beyond.

If you add a second external monitor via the Anker 563, a 4K screen will still run at 30 Hz via HDMI, while the DisplayPort will support up to 2560×1440 resolution at 60 Hz.

There are more disappointing caveats when looking at a tri-monitor setup. The 4K monitor will run at 30 Hz, but you can no longer use another monitor at 2560×1440. Instead, the additional two monitors are limited to 2048×1152 resolution and 60 Hz refresh rates. If the display doesn’t support 2048×1152, Anker says the monitor will default to 1920×1080.

You also have to download DisplayLink software, and you must be running macOS10.14 or Windows 7 or later.

Apple says that “using docks or daisy-chaining devices doesn’t increase the number of displays you can connect” to an M1 Mac, so don’t be surprised if there are hiccups during operation.

Anker isn’t alone in trying to do what Apple says can’t be done, as noted by The Verge. Hyper, for example, offers options for adding two 4K monitors to an M1 MacBook, one at 30 Hz and one at 60 Hz. That list includes a $200 hub with a similar port selection to the Anker 563 and a two-year limited warranty (the Anker dock gives 18 months). It works via DisplayPort Alt Mode, so you don’t need a DisplayLink driver, but it still requires the pesky Hyper app.

Plugable offers docking solutions that claim to work with M1 Macs for a similar price to the Anker dock, and they also limit 4K to 30 Hz.

Some docks have even more limitations when it comes to the M1, though. CalDigit notes that for its dock, “users cannot extend their desktop over two displays and will be limited to either dual ‘Mirrored’ displays or 1 external display depending on the dock.”

Alternatively, and for several hundred dollars more, you could buy a new MacBook and upgrade to an M1 Pro, M1 Max, or M1 Ultra processor. Depending on the device, those chips can support from two to five external displays, Apple says.

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Qualcomm’s Snapdragon “8+ Gen 1” salvage operation moves the chip to TSMC

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Qualcomm

Qualcomm’s mid-cycle “plus” chip refresh—the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1—has been announced. As usual, Qualcomm is promising some modest improvements over the existing 8 Gen 1 chip. The company said the chip will provide “10 percent faster CPU performance,” thanks to a 200 MHz peak CPU boost (up to 3.2 GHz now) and a 10 percent faster GPU. The real shocker is a “30 percent improved power efficiency” claim for the CPU and GPU.

For the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Plus, Qualcomm is moving the chip from Samsung Foundry to TSMC, which is apparently where the power improvements are coming from. That’s a serious slam against Samsung’s 4 nm process versus TSMC’s 4 nm process, but it lines up with earlier reports of troubles at Samsung Foundry.

Swapping foundries as part of a mid-cycle upgrade is not normal, and it seems that Qualcomm has a bit of a salvage operation on its hands with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. The chip has not fared very well in the real world, with the CPU regularly turning in lower benchmark scores than 2021’s flagship Snapdragon 888.

Qualcomm doesn’t do all that much for phones year over year to begin with, and it is regularly years behind Apple’s SoC team. Usually, the one reliable upgrade Qualcomm can deliver is some measurable percentage of benchmark improvements. The GPU managed to improve for 2022, but to see the CPU horsepower decrease after Qualcomm claimed it would be 20 percent faster is a major disappointment. After a foundry change and a CPU MHz boost, Qualcomm’s 2022 CPU might finally be faster than its 2021 counterpart.

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The same phone for 25 years? iFixit on right to repair’s remaining obstacles, hope

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The fight for the right to repair remains an active battle as various companies and lawmakers claim worries around safety, cybersecurity, and design innovation. But with concerns about e-waste, device quality, and the health of independent repair shops mounting, advocates like iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens are keeping their gloves up. In the lead up to Ars Technica’s first annual Ars Frontiers event in Washington, DC, last week, we held a livestream with Wiens exploring this critical tech issue.

Making a federal case of it

Tech repairs got complicated in 1998 when Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act [PDF]. Section 1201 of the copyright law essentially made it illegal to distribute tools for, or to break encryption on, manufactured products. Created with DVD piracy in mind, it made fixing things like computers and tractors significantly harder, if not illegal, without manufacturer permission. It also represented “a total sea change from what historic property rights have been,” Wiens said.

This makes Washington, DC, the primary battleground for the fight for the right to repair.

“Because this law was passed at the federal level, the states can’t preempt. Congress at the federal level reset copyright policy. This fix has to happen at the US federal level,” Wiens told Ars Technica during the Road to Frontiers talk.

The good news is that every three years, the US Copyright Office holds hearings to discuss potential exemptions. Right to repair advocates are hoping Congress will schedule this year’s hearing soon.

Wiens also highlighted the passing of the Freedom to Repair Act [PDF] introduced earlier this year as critical for addressing Section 1201 and creating a permanent exemption for repairing tech products.

Apple’s promising, imperfect progress

Apple’s self-service repair program launched last month marked a huge step forward for the right to repair initiated by a company that has shown long-standing resistance.

Wiens applauded the program, which provides repair manuals for the iPhone 12, 13, and newest SE and will eventually extend to computers. He emphasized how hard it is for iFixit to reverse-engineer such products to determine important repair details, like whether a specific screw is 1 or 1.1 mm.

Apple’s program also offers repair tools, particularly benefiting independent repair shops, Wiens noted. But that doesn’t mean Apple can’t be more repair-friendly.

“What Apple is doing wrong in this case is they continue to embark on this strategy where they have paired specific parts to the phone,” Wiens explained.

“If you take two brand-new iPhone 13s and you swap the screens, you’re not necessarily going to get all the functionality that you would expect, which is strange because if you take two cars and you swap the engines, they work just fine. … You take two Samsungs, and you swap the screens, they work just fine.”

The exec worries that despite Apple claiming it wants to provide a detailed service history, this tactic can result in the banning of aftermarket parts.

“The repair economy, the circular economy around iPhones, is significant. … It creates a lot of jobs,” Wiens said. “Apple could easily short-circuit that economy by employing these cryptographic locks to tie parts to phones. Then this would tie into Section 1201 because it might potentially be illegal to circumvent those locks to make an aftermarket part work again.”

A repairable future

Wiens envisioned a world where gadgets not only last longer but where you may also build relationships with local businesses to keep your products functioning. He lamented the loss of businesses like local camera and TV repair shops extinguished by vendors no longer supplying parts and tools.

“I think it’s incumbent on all of us to say, what kind of economy do we want? Do we want a main street where we have local people that know how to fix and maintain our things? Or do we want a factory assembly line where we manufacture stuff in Asia, we dump it here, use it for however long it works, and then there’s no maintenance plan for it,” Wiens said.

He also discussed the idea of giving gadgets second and even third lives: An aged smartphone could become a baby monitor or a smart thermostat.

“I think we should be talking about lifespans of smartphones in terms of 20, 25 years,” Wiens said.

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