Apple’s threats to Epic to cut off access to iOS and macOS developer’s tools are taking a disagreement too far and will cause undeniable harm to professional users on the Mac platform.
Reports out of the Washington Post, The Verge and other news outlets are quoting Epic saying that the company has two weeks to comply with Fortnite over Apple’s App Store rules or it will cut off Epic from iOS and macOS developer tools.
Apple will terminate Epic’s membership in the Apple Developer Program, effectively making it impossible to distribute apps to iOS devices or to use Apple developer tools. The Verge reports that Epic has filed for a preliminary injunction against Apple, asking the courts to prevent Apple from its intended actions.
At the heart of the issue is the way monetization is happening inside Fortnite. Apple claims Epic is in breach of the App Store agreements that all developers must abide by. It is asking Epic to “cure your breaches” within two weeks, according to a letter sent from Apple to Epic.
Not Just Games
Disruption to Apple’s developer tools and methods of distributing apps to Mac computers will be part of the casualty in this legal scrimmage. Apple’s threat to Epic may seem as if it is simply squared up on the world of games, but Epic’s Unreal Engine is behind new professional tools of growing significance in professional markets.
One such tool is the very popular and award-winning Twinmotion rendering and animation application for design markets like AEC (architecture, engineering, construction). (see: Architosh, “Product Review: Twinmotion 2020,” 30 June 2020). Twinmotion is also a critical element to other professional applications like AEC industry giants Archicad—one of the world’s leading BIM software tools used by architects globally. Archicad’s developers have built tight integrations between Archicad and Twinmotion.
While at first blush it may seem this legal battle is simply about Fortnite, the repercussions and damage from this deteriorating relationship could have a lasting negative impact for Apple’s professional Mac customers who already in markets like AEC, desire greater access to the industry’s best tools.
Rumored Impact on Twinmotion Update
Architosh heard that this Epic and Apple disagreement may have recently affected the latest release update for Twinmotion 2020.2. We have discovered on our test machine, which was recently one of the machines used to review Twinmotion 2020.1, that the Epic Launcher app will appear to install the latest 2020.2 updates for Twinmotion, but the Epic Launcher app will not properly launch the update. On our test machine, we tried to launch the update this morning and it failed to launch the new 2020.2 version of Twinmotion but it succeeded in launching the previous versions.
This is likely a coincidence rather than being connected to the Apple-Epic spat. We don’t know for sure but will check with Epic today.
Architosh Analysis and Commentary
Apple’s threat to Epic will clearly have an impact on the professional Mac community. Companies like Graphisoft (the makers of Archicad) have partnered with Epic on Twinmotion to make real-time, bi-directional design-to-rendering workflows between Archicad and Twinmotion. Graphisoft’s user-base is nearly 50 percent Macintosh. And the Hungarian BIM maker has touted a free version of Twinmotion with the latest version of Archicad. This is just one example of where Epic’s technology is being utilized in a popular AEC (architecture, engineering, construction) workflow.
While Apple may eventually prevail in a legal battle with Epic, the damage done to the Apple-Epic relationship could have lasting implications on the decisions Epic makes with Unreal Engine technology currently and planned for future pro apps for the Mac. It can also affect other pro developers who are currently considering Mac development. When Architosh first met the Enscape folks several years ago at the AIA National Convention and asked about a Mac version for their incredibly strong and popular rendering application for the AEC market, we were told they had no interest. When we asked why we were told in no uncertain terms it was partly because of the way Apple treats developers.
Apple needs to realize that in massive pro markets like AEC, what is stopping the Mac from being the most popular computer platform isn’t the inertia within the industry, a tendency to resist change around dominant tools and hardware platforms. The iPad is proof of that! The iPad became a quick sensation within AEC and is now benefitting from the natural inertia of this conservative global industry. No! what is stopping the Mac—and the only thing stopping the Mac—is access to key apps.
In this regard, Apple has a horrible track record. Firstly, despite its size and influence, Apple has done little to help get the industry’s top tools on its platform. Secondly, it is not even apparent that Apple has a single soul focused on the AEC industry who knows which tools are dominant, which technology matters, and who the rising players are. And thirdly, pro app developers routinely tell us off the record that Apple is more difficult to deal with than Microsoft. When it comes to the support of third-party developers, Apple has greatly improved (though some will even counter this), but they are still not as accommodating and easy to deal with as Microsoft.
In the final analysis—and this is something Apple shareholders should be thinking about—why approve of Apple’s plans for professional markets with tools like the new Mac Pro if the company’s collective actions do substantial damage to the “take-up” of such professional hardware? Apple lives in the delirious delusional state that the sheer amazing wonder of its pro-Mac hardware is enough for the professional markets to adopt the Mac in great numbers. No, that’s not going to happen. And it’s especially not going to happen in the AEC industry where tool-to-tool workflows are growing—where the era of “integration” between large sets of apps defines best-in-breed workflows. In this new integrated era, the winners will be workflows and the flexibility to interchange tools into and out of workflows. If some key tools and technology are no longer on the macOS platform users in pro markets will simply look the other way. This is what happened to Apple’s Macs in Hollywood VFX markets where studios eventually couldn’t find much of a place for Macs inside their visual effects workflows.
I would encourage Apple at this juncture to relook at this App Store situation and their agreement structures. They are making a billion-dollar investment in switching their Mac platform to Apple Silicon. It will create turmoil for both end-users and developers alike. Now is not the time to be screwing up developer relations and worst of all, cutting off access to technologies—really pivotal technologies like Unreal Engine—to hundreds of thousands of pro customers who want to work on Macs.