Court cases are not speedy things. This week's highly publicised US Supreme Court judgement against Apple is a ruling in a case that was originally filed back in 2011 -- way back when App Stores were still a pretty novel kind of idea -- and it doesn't even mark the end of that case, with the Supreme Court's decision merely clearing the path for the substantive case to be heard.
This case, Apple vs. Pepper, is actually a pretty good example of how the ponderousness of legal processes and the speedy nature of technological development -- always moving fast, always breaking something -- can be seriously mismatched. The original case was arguing that Apple's control of the App Store was monopolistic and being used to drive up the price of software for iPhones, a claim that may still have some legal merit but which looks a little peculiar in an era where the standard price for most smartphone apps has fallen to zero.
"The case was originally filed back in 2011 -- way back when App Stores were still a pretty novel kind of idea"
Of course, Apple could still lose the broader case (we likely won't know for a couple of years), and if that does happen it would have huge implications across the industry. If Apple, a minority player in the smartphone market, is judged to be a monopoly for running a walled garden App Store, then the knock-on implications for every company with a walled garden digital distribution system would be dramatic -- including, of course, every console platform holder.
However, we're a long way from that point. The courts aren't yet considering any arguments about monopolies or anti-trust, with the rulings made so far being entirely about the plaintiffs' actual right to bring a case against Apple in the first place. Yet even if that aspect is an unintended stop along the way for this legal process, it's also got some boat-rocking implications of its own.
At the heart of this ruling is an argument over whether a system like the App Store is a service provided to developers in order to help them sell directly to consumers (in which case the developer is Apple's customer, and the consumer is the developer's customer), or whether it's actually effectively a retailer (in which case the consumer is Apple's customer). Apple argued that it's the former case; you're a customer of Apple when you buy an iPhone, but when you then buy an app for that iPhone, you're a customer of the app developer, while Apple's role in that second transaction is simply as a service provider to the developer. That's important here because it impacts who has standing; Apple was arguing that consumers couldn't take an anti-trust case against the App Store because they're not customers of the App Store.