Jun 19, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

As March draws to a close, I'd just like to thank you for continuing to read Login from your new home office.

Today's Login is 1,615 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: Critics bemoan Apple's App Store rules ahead of WWDC

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A growing chorus of developers is criticizing the rules that have long governed the iOS App Store, saying they are both arbitrary and out of date, needlessly forcing many companies to pay Apple a hefty share of their revenue.

The big picture: When Apple launched its App Store for the iPhone it was an underdog, but it's now a wealthy, dominant firm, and some rivals, politicians and independent developers say it's high time it loosened its tight grip on how things can be sold in its ecosystem.

Driving the news:

  • In denying an appeal from the makers of email app Hey on Thursday, Apple said it was maintaining its existing rules for the App Store, which require developers of most subscription consumer apps to include an option for in-app purchases, of which Apple takes a cut.
  • Without mentioning Apple by name, Microsoft president Brad Smith said Thursday that some of today's app stores exert far more control than his company ever did at the height of Windows' power two decades ago, when it faced a federal antitrust suit.

Context: Since the introduction of the App Store more than a decade ago, Apple has taken a 30% cut of app sales and, more recently, of in-app purchases and subscriptions for digital goods.

  • There are some exemptions, mostly to cover "reader apps" that allow access to content purchased elsewhere. That lets Netflix and Amazon avoid giving Apple a cut of subscriptions and ebook sales.
  • Apple views all this as being flexible, but critics say the lines the company draws often seem arbitrary.

Between the lines: While many developers have quietly seethed about giving Apple its typical 30% cut, until recently most have just gone along. After all, unlike with Windows, Android, and even the Mac, there's only one way to get an app to the iPhone, and that is to go through the App Store.

  • In the last week, though, the soft grumbling and occasional complaints have grown louder, with Match Group and Basecamp joining Epic Games, Spotify and others in criticizing Apple publicly.

Basecamp CEO Jason Fried (no relation to Login's author), whose firm developed Hey, says he has no intention of giving Apple a share of Hey's subscription revenue.The App Store model is fine for developers that are looking for promotion and discoverability, he said, but is too high a price to pay for those that have a following and just want to get their app to iPhone users.

  • "Why should every company have no choice but to pay the exact same price for services they don't need?" Fried said. "It's monopolistic. It's got to stop."

What they're saying:

  • Venture capitalist M.G. Siegler: "App Store rules and policies were created for the world as it was a decade ago.... Apple should create new guidelines for the world as it is now."
  • Podcaster and tech writer Seamus Byrne: "This is a mess for Apple. Hey is a textbook example of applying rules in a way that is monopolistic. Anti-trust regulators are watching already — this is jet fuel for that fire."

What's next: Antitrust clouds are gathering over Apple. In addition to the complaint filed in Europe on Tuesday, House antitrust panel Chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.) called Apple's policies "highway robbery" in a Verge podcast.

Meanwhile: The App Store fracas comes as Apple's developer conference kicks off virtually on Monday, where the company is expected to outline the next versions of the Mac and iPhone operating systems, among other announcements.

2. The Last of Us Part II: The game for an uneasy summer

The Last of Us Part II was already a highly anticipated PlayStation game heading into this year. But the game, which debuts today, and its tale of a society shattered by an infection, has added resonance amid the current pandemic and civil unrest sweeping the country, Axios' Kyle Daly reports.

The big picture: Nintendo's Animal Crossing, the video game hit of the spring, offered escapism as people hunkered down for an extended stay at home. The Last of Us Part II, with a post-apocalyptic storyline full of moral quandaries, could become the game of the current moment.

Details: The years-in-the-making game, developed by Naughty Dog and exclusive to Sony's PlayStation 4, is a sequel to 2013's hit, The Last of Us.

  • The earlier game saw the player control Joel, who develops a fatherly bond with teenaged Ellie — the only person known to be immune to a fungal infection that has ravaged the earth's population. (The disease is based on an actual fungal parasite that hijacks insects' brains.)
  • In the sequel — which Axios previewed thanks to a review copy from Sony Interactive Entertainment — you primarily control Ellie four years after the events of the original game, as the characters confront a fractured society, breakaway groups in Seattle and their own trauma.

As with the first game, The Last of Us Part II offers narrative sophistication and moral ambiguity — rare in video games, particularly in big-budget studio products, which typically have players spend hours mowing down scores of enemies.

  • Some more ambitious games — like the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy that kicked off in 2013 or recent entries in the Far Cry series of games — have tried, less satisfyingly, to graft weighty questions onto conventional "kill the bad guys, save the world" storylines.

Between the lines: The Last of Us Part II at times forces the player to make choices most of us would resist, then answer for the consequences. That, along with exceptional graphics and animation, gives the game, for all its fantasy elements, a real-life feel.

  • It's an echo of our broken world, filled with fractious, irrational people doing ignoble things with the best of intentions, and horrific things with no intention at all.

Of note: As we wrote last year, The Last of Us Part II is also one of very few games to prominently feature a major LGBTQ character.

  • Ellie is gay, while another character is trans. In both cases, these facets of the characters' identities are presented matter-of-factly and handled more thoughtfully than other games have managed.

By the numbers: The 2013 original was a huge hit, selling 7 million copies on the PlayStation 3 and then another 10 million copies on the PlayStation 4 after being remastered in 2014, becoming among the top-selling games on both consoles.

The bottom line: Those playing The Last of Us Part II in this uneasy time may get a feeling of déjà vu — whether or not they played the first game.

3. Facebook pulls Trump campaign ads with Nazi symbol

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook took down an ad on Thursday from the Trump campaign that attacked antifa and leftist groups with a prominent display of an inverted red triangle in a black outline, a symbol the Nazis used for political dissenters.

Why it matters: Facebook has given politicians and campaigns wide latitude in what they say on its platform, but this appears to have been a step too far.

  • While rare, it's not unheard of. Facebook in March took down Trump campaign ads that referred to a "census." The census it referred to was not the official U.S. Census, and Facebook had previously said it would take a strong stand on census-related misinformation.

What they're saying: "We removed these posts and ads for violating our policy against organized hate," Facebook said in a statement. "Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group's symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol."

Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh said in a statement:

“The inverted red triangle is a symbol used by Antifa, so it was included in an ad about Antifa. We would note that Facebook still has an inverted red triangle emoji in use, which looks exactly the same, so it’s curious that they would target only this ad.”

Between the lines: Others have disputed the Trump campaign's claim, as antifa supporters tend to instead use a different symbol — two flags surrounded by a circle — that dates back to opponents of the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

  • Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement: “It is not difficult for one to criticize their political opponent without using Nazi-era imagery. We implore the Trump campaign to take greater caution and familiarize themselves with the historical context before doing so."
  • The Trump campaign has been running ads attacking Antifa and groups on the left for much of the month, per Media Matters for America. The ads with the red triangle were first posted Wednesday.

Meanwhile: Twitter late Thursday labeled another of Trump's tweets, this time to note that it contained "manipulated media" — in this case a fake chyron on a CNN video.

  • Twitter has been more aggressive in labeling content from Trump of late, recently fact-checking a post on voting by mail and labeling and limiting the promotion of another that it said glorified violence.
4. Tech marks Juneteenth with holidays, protests

Lots of tech companies are giving workers the day off Friday for Juneteenth, encouraging workers to use the commemoration of the end of U.S. slavery as a time for learning and reflection. Some worker activists, meanwhile, hope to use the day to shine a light on modern-day inequalities.

Why it matters: Juneteenth has taken on added meaning this year amid nationwide protests over police brutality and systemic racism.

Driving the news: The tech industry has responded to the protests with a mix of equality pledges, donations and commitments to future diversity efforts.

  • In recent days, Google and Airbnb have made fresh commitments on hiring, with PayPal, Facebook and others pledging additional financial investments in the Black community.

However: critics of the industry say more action is needed and are using Juneteenth as an opportunity to reiterated their demands.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Axios is hosting our own live virtual event honoring Juneteenth and discussing the current state of race relations in America. Join markets editor Dion Rabouin today at 12:30pm ET for a discussion featuring former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, BET co-founder Bob Johnson, Campaign Zero co-founder DeRay Mckesson and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. Click here to register.

Trading Places

  • Colin Kaepernick is joining the board of Medium and will write for the site, which is run by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams.
  • The National Association of Broadcasters promoted Michelle Duke to chief diversity officer, a new position.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

Here's skateboard legend Tony Hawk, at 52, back in action after a finger injury.

Ina Fried