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Ask HN: What would happen if Apple removed Uber from its App Store?
42 points by soheil on Feb 28, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments
There is always a risk (no matter how small) of any app being deemed inappropriate by Apple and, hence removed from the App Store. I'm not particularly interested in why Apple would do that. If that were to happen, hypothetically, what would Uber, a $63 billion company, do without its primary way to generate revenue?

If Apple arbitrarily removed Uber's app from their App Store:

1. Uber would file a lawsuit for a huge amount of damages. (They have enough money to be able to afford lots of lawyers.)

2. A large percentage of Apple's customers who are also Uber customers would be hugely pissed off and switch to Android phones.

3. There would be huge amounts of negative publicity. There would be congressional inquiries into anti-competitive behavior, and demands for government regulation. Apple's board might even fire the CEO.

It's almost inconceivable that Apple would do something so harmful to its own self-interest.

>> congressional inquiries into anti-competitive behavior

Anti-trust law requires having a monopoly(which Apple doesn't have) or acting together with other companies. So in this case it's probably legal.

EDIT: that's basically the opinion of Keith Rabois, who litigated several anti-trust laws.


Anti-competitive behavior doesn't require a monopoly. There's collusion/price fixing, libel, and other ways to interfere in a business which are all illegal without having a monopoly.

If we use cars as an analogy, we require car manufacturers to allow service by other mechanics, but we don't require the same for phones (yet). Car manufacturers do not have monopolies.

At some point, asking, "Does Apple have a monopoly?" becomes the wrong question to ask.

>> we require car manufacturers to allow service by other mechanics

True, but that required a new law, and sure a new law could also be deployed with regards to Apple.

I think it requires having a dominant position, which in the in app purchase market is pretty much the case (by revenues).

Lots of android in the market but sold to people who couldn't tell the difference with iOS and wouldn't even know how to buy an app.

I think anti-trust also requires a non-privately administered market. In Apple's App Store, they own the servers serving the app market, giving them control.

I don't think the government could force them to keep an app on their server and continue to serve it to consumers running their software if they didn't want to.

Actually, in terms of total revenue both markets are pretty close together now due to the larger install base on Android and ever increasing monetization of users.

It's analogous to Google removing nytimes from their search results.

To be honest though it's also anti competitive for big brands like uber to be able to bully their way to negative publicity while mom and pops are helpless if they are removed from an App Store or Google.

1. I believe that Uber would raise against such decision. I also believe that all the problems it could bring would make Apple back in that decision. They are not competitors, so they win anything for complicating life to Uber.

2. No one would switch to Android just because of that.

3. Yes, lots of negative publicity. That's why 1. would never be reached.

Finally, one thing not mentioned: people would find a way to install the app without the app store. Every good hacker in the world would try to do it firstly, because every iphone user would be asking to be able to install Uber. And Apple doesn't want all bright minds trying to find flaws in their system for sure (I wouldn't at least)

2. No one would switch to Android just because of that.

Because of losing Uber? No.

Because they don't trust Apple not to remove other apps? Absolutely.

Consistency, stability and trust are quite important to maintaining a brand. Apple arbitrarily removing apps would definitely harm their brand image, especially as they're positioning themselves as a market leader in fighting for their customers privacy and trust at the moment.

didn't see that point. it's true, but I think consumers would take more than 1 app (even if it as big as Uber) to change. If the behaviour stars repeating of course people would.

But Apple would be required by users to give an explanation for those actions.

Still, all this post is kinda nonsense because it would never happen. It's more a karma bait lol

> 1. They are not competitors, but Apple's arbitrary removal of the app from its AppStore without giving a valid reason will certainly make a legal case against them (unless Apple specifically mentions they can do so in their store's T&C which I don't know much about).

>2. Yes, they would. In 2016, android is fully feature equivalent to Apple's iDevices, only reason you may not switch is that you are too lethargic and don't want to unlearn the iOS way of things.

>3. Whether they will do it or not will depend on the negative publicity vis-a-vis impact on profits/bottom lines. If your bottom-lines hit the floor as no one is using an app to place cab booking orders, the last thing you will worry about is negative publicity. Apple, on the other hand, will worry about this publicity since it has a lot to loose from it.

Is intentionally damaging someone without valid reason really sufficient to win a lawsuit? That seems pretty broad: I do that every time I browse the peanut butter section at the supermarket.

If the CEO of Apple told the CEO of Uber over a recorded phone call, "The Board, the Shareholders, and I all agree on cutting your app out of the store for no reason other than we hate your guts and it'll bring us joy to watch you suffer", it still seems like that shouldn't be enough to win a lawsuit. It's Apple's store: They get to choose the apps they want in their store. What next - are we going to have judges force bookstores to stock books because "your reasons for not stocking the book aren't good enough"?

Of course, Uber surely has explicit agreements with Apple, Google, and even their hosting provider. You don't build a multibillion dollar business on top of someone without even calling them to make sure it's okay.

Certainly, they will have to prove somehow that their app was ultimately removed owning to a competitor's pressure. If they can do that, then the monopolies act and everything will come into the picture. I'm not insinuating that any competitor is doing this to Uber, but that's pretty natural and apparent in this case. Naturally, the store is Apple's business and app publishing is a means of income. No sane business will refuse a business prospect on the grounds of "I don't like you". The only reasoning here is that a competitor is involved. But yeah, proving that in a court of law is a different thing altogether which Uber has to manage.

I don't understand (1). Why is Apple legally required to approve any app?

They're not legally required to approve any app. Banning Uber's app would not be cause for criminal action, but for a civil suit for damages or breach of contract. The argument might go something like this:

1. Uber's app had previously been approved.

2. Apple, by their previous policies, therefore led Uber to believe that they could build a business around an iOS app. Relying on that information, Uber invested billions of dollars into their business.

3. Apple, by now banning Uber's app, has committed an act that damages Uber.

Also, it would be difficult for Apple to come up with criteria for an acceptable app that would disqualify Uber but not also millions of other apps, without having some new condition specifically aimed at Uber. This could be used as evidence that Apple intended to cause damage to Uber.

Do you know of a previous case that's similar to what you're describing here? Because I'm having a hard time understand this. Unless Apple entered into an agreement with Uber, I don't see how Uber would have an expectation that their relationship with the App Store would continue in its same form into perpetuity. And I'm almost positive there is some condition in the apple developer agreement that says "We reserve the right to terminate without notice or reason" or something similar.

What you're saying is reasonable, and I could see how a judge might agree with the arguments you've made. But it also seems like Apple could say, "We don't like the CEO of Uber's haircut", which is as valid as any other reason to terminate a non-contractual relationship. If Uber wanted protection for the billions they invested, they should have negotiated a proper agreement. Maybe I just don't understand how the law works.

> Also, it would be difficult for Apple to come up with criteria for an acceptable app that would disqualify Uber but not also millions of other apps, without having some new condition specifically aimed at Uber.

Not really. Apple already has draconian terms to submit apps. They've done things like ban pretty wallpaper weather apps before and released their own version of it. They even attacked Flux and then duplicated the feature.

It's perfectly legal since their terms basically say anything that competes with them is not allowed. So they could easily ban Uber and say you should be using their phone capability to call a cab.

"So they could easily ban Uber and say you should be using their phone capability to call a cab."

- That argument would also apply to any other app that allowed you to order goods or services.

- Apple doesn't offer phone service - they only sell phones. And they're certainly not in the taxi business. So I don't see how they could construct a convincing argument that Uber competes with them.

But I think the point was that Uber also has a lot of money for lawyers so they could at least fight it and cause some stirr, media attention, etc, and then that in turn could damage Apple.

They could simply update their policy and then continue to remove it, which would make all the above points moot.

It's really cool that you outlined the argument here in a simple series of steps. That's the approach that I'd like to see more online discussions take, and I've created Sequiturs to promote that approach: https://sequiturs.com/arguments/apple-by-now-banning-uber-s-.... I left you a comment there about step 2.

If you're a fan of this argument format, I'd love to get your feedback about what you think of Sequiturs.

Regarding a criteria to disqualify Uber...

I was under the impression that all purchases conducted within an iOS app had to go through Apple's in-app purchase framework. Uber let's me get a ride then bills me completely separately. Likewise, if I want to purchase movie tickets the Cineplex app shows me a web page (still inside the app) and lets me buy the tickets.

Yet the Kindle app is not allowed to let me buy Kindle books, nor can it even provide a link to Amazon to buy Kindle books.

Why are Cineplex and Uber able to circumvent Apple's in-app purchase policy but Amazon isn't?

Or has this policy changed?

IAP is only required for purchasing digital content. This is why e-books, music, movies, game content and anything else you consume or watch on the phone requires IAP. Purchases for services or physical goods can be handled separately. Amazon has an app where I can buy physical stuff, but I can't buy Kindle or Audible content within the app.

Ahh, interesting! Thanks for the clarification, I didn't realize they treated digital vs physical goods separately.

- Abuse of dominant economic position

- Having had a history of having the app on their store already

So they better have a very good reason for taking their app out of the store

Anti-competitive behaviors like this are really only an issue when done with a monopoly, which Apple does not have. That's how Apple can restrict the iPhone and iPad to a single browser and only allow browser skins/UIs within their app store. If Microsoft tried to make Internet Explorer the only browser permitted in Windows, it would be a very different story.

A different story for sure, but I don't see how the difference between Windows and iOS plays to Apple's advantage here. Windows is something that I voluntarily run on my computer. If i don't like it, I wipe it off the disk and use a different operating system. If I wipe iOS off my phone I've voided my warranty as far as I understand.

No way. Plenty of people with lobbying power hate Uber, especially as they start attacking public transit. (Heavily unionized)

Uber's valuation is dependent on growth and market dominance. Losing convenient access to a big piece of the market would a deep wound.

I just went to uber.com in Mobile Safari and it seemed willing to sign me up without even suggesting I use the app instead. I don't have or want an account, but did you check to see if the web app "just works".

I assume that would be a stop-gap while Uber tries to come into compliance with whatever AppStore rule is keeping them out.

I think it's impossible that there would be reason they could not comply, but to answer your question, I think they would mobilize their users by having them contact Apple support en-masse until Apple relented.


Nope. Any web app may request your location. It is up to you to allow it or not.

Websites can access your location in Mobile Safari. For example, Google Maps does this.

In real time as you are moving? Use case: drunk girls summon Uber while in the club, the walk across the street to where it is less crowded to wait for their ride.

Yes. The refresh rate seems to be lower than the native version of Google Maps. I don't know if this is due to the website or Safari.

I disagree with some other comments. I think it is totally possible that Apple removes Uber from their Store. That's the danger of all the "closed" and "restricted" app stores.

1- Uber has a web app that works on all platforms that can run a modern browser (pretty much all in fact). Right after the app is taken down, they would publicly push all iPhone users to use the web app.

2- People would buy other devices where it run natively (Android, smartwatches, etc.).

3- I bet Uber is already working on a plan B to mitigate that. Like building their own device, integrating with car manufacturers, etc. They could be even working on creating an alternative mobile OS. Having Uber natively integrated in a mobile OS could be a huge opportunity to grow with other features and become the next generation iPhone. It would also be a differentiator to the iPhone.

The mapping API they use could also be taken down or blocked. Same risks there and that's why they are working on their own mapping technology. They tried to buy HERE maps but it failed.

>> Like building their own device, integrating with car manufacturers, etc.

Integrating with car manufacturers only helps drivers. But drivers can just quickly buy a cheap Android phone to run the partner app.

Not very useful for the end user. Unless they have a car with Uber installed, and are drunk so get an Uber driver to pick them up at their car.

I've been wondering about this short of thing, especially related to the App Store rules around APNS[1], numbers 5.5 and 5.6.

A little while ago, Yelp began spamming me with a "Yelp Weekly NYC" APNS message every Friday. I also believe Lyft has been doing this with promotions. Under these rules, both of those apps should be immediately removed from the App Store, and I'd support that.

[1]: https://developer.apple.com/app-store/review/guidelines/#pus...

1. it would have a severe negative impact on their new customer rate, probably leading to a "fail" in whatever cities they opened that month.

2. It would however lead to a very important debate that has not happened yet - who "owns" the platforms of iOS and android and who can play gatekeeper? Because Apple has not yet abused its position, the problem has not arisen.

But there will be plenty of political and economic incentive to force Apple and Android / goggle play to open their gatekeeper roles to "some other bodies", possibly with public service remits.

Ultimately access to the platforms will always be a privilege, but the platforms are rapidly becoming a public good and as such will one day be regulated differently - just as the electricity industry did.

One day soon the Apple Car App will be directly competing with Uber - I would not like to be Uber then if I had not spent the intervening years quietly lobbying for a "open platform" reform.

1) Uber would offer an alternative web app immediately

2) Uber would sue Apple for damages and try to get back into the app store & using its monopoly to influence other businesses.

3) Uber would encourage users to use Android and possibly raise awareness of Android and begin supporting its development in OSS circles. It would also support OSS projects that improve the app experience of web apps.

4) Uber would also start offering incentives to its api developers to make their own Uber apps for the app store as an alternative. So none of that referrals crap, proper cash incentives. Maybe even invest in a couple of startups creating these apps.

5) Undoubtedly Uber will use its PR team to write negative articles about iOS and use it as an opportunity to 'fight back' and gain customers. It will ask users to also write to Apple or ask them to boycott Apple products.

They already have a web app https://m.uber.com/

I think if that were to happen Uber will tirelessly and ferociously push their API. They will probably finally start giving money for taxis booked from the API so other apps could be used to book Uber. I think they will heavily push their Messenger integration. I don't believe they will improve web app booking by a factor.

Following week, we would hear that Uber acquires Lyft. It will probably give option to Apple to either provide Uber app installed by default on all Apple devices, just like YoutTube and GMaps used to. If not, it will pull every single taxi booking app from Apple's platforms.

One may think there would be an expensive lawsuit. But I think with already too many legal strikes against them, Uber will muscle their way out of it. I know I would if, hypothetically, am put in that situation.

Distribution channels:other distribution channels, be it the web, or other apps. Those might be harder to ban, maybe due to laws(net-neutrality), user expectations about the web or maybe to the power of said apps together.

Politics: pulling strings, getting people Angry and channeling that Anger , pressuring Apple. might have all kinds of side effects on politics, the stock market, people that use phones as a critical tool(work, etc).

Technical solutions: In paralel , they could also shift to a model of virtual bus-stations ,maybe they will put large public touch screens(like in china) , maybe they will create a very thin iphone case with embedded electronics and an eink screen , sell cheaply, just for UBER and some other stuff. Or they will build an automated voice/sms activated ordering system.

End result : Unless other distributions channels works for them, the rest will take too much time, and UBER will probably lose.

Does Apple get a cut of Uber fares from in-app purchases? (I think the standard amount is 30%.) If that's the case, the money lost would be one more reason for Apply not to do this, or perhaps a reason to reject the Uber app if Uber refused to pay.

It doesn't, Uber processes their payments themselves. You don't have to pay the Apple tax for physical goods or services.

If it's an IAP (In-App-Purchase), then there would be a 30% cut. But Uber and Lyft are simply using Apple Pay or card on file for transactions. They may take a smaller skim though, anyone have the answer to this?

I wasn't aware they use in app purchases?

They'd be forced into using a web app and living with the limitations. Depending on Apple's hypothetical reasoning, they may hold out for money, or not be interested in a resolution.

I've been connected in the past in labor disputes where unlikely/impossible things suddenly become the new normal. Given Apple and Google's interests and upstream market position vs. Uber, I don't think this scenario is that difficult to envision.

They wouldnt because that would be a poor decision for everyone involved. Huge lawsuit... mayors office calling... public outrage...

idk create a decentrilized service?

If you think that would be bad imagine if AWS stopped service all together.

Or the human race dying out from BIRD FLU

I think this open question should lead many founders to overthink risks which comes by working with any app store, and always keeping an alternative option like Uber did with their web-app which all users can use.

Users can request rides via Uber's website.

I believe users requesting (and getting) rides is Uber's primary revenue generator, so not having the App Store access would be inconvenient but not catastrophic.

I removed UberX from my wife and my daughter iPhone. Not trust them. Using Flywheel for taxis only. Working perfectly in San Francisco. Recommend it.

What if Uber started distributing free Uber-requesting devices to its customers?

I'm not in favor of bring back the Bat Belt. It wasn't too long ago, on one's belt you would find: cell phone, iPod, Palm Pilot, perhaps even a pager.

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