Apple CEO Tim Cook, senior execs to testify at Epic Fortnite trial

The iPhone maker expects to call nearly a dozen people from its organization in the high profile trial, due to start May 3.

Apple's epic battle with Fortnite's developer is heading to trial soon.
Angela Lang/CNET

Apple plans to call some of its highest profile executives to testify as part of its upcoming trial with Fortnite maker Epic Games. Apple said it plans to call its CEO, Tim Cook, software head Craig Federighi, and Apple fellow Phil Schiller, as well as employees who help combat fraud, manage payment processing and those who build developer tools for iPhone apps. Apple said it plans for all its witnesses to appear in person.

"Our senior executives look forward to sharing with the court the very positive impact the App Store has had on innovation, economies across the world and the customer experience over the last 12 years," Apple said in a statement after filing its witness list late on Friday. "We feel confident the case will prove that Epic purposefully breached its agreement solely to increase its revenues, which is what resulted in their removal from the App Store."

Epic didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The gaming giant plans to call its CEO, Tim Sweeney, as well as other executives to discuss the company's business model, financial performance and the Epic Games Store. The company also plans to call Apple's former head of iOS software, Scott Forstall, to discuss the differences between mobile devices and PCs and the history of App Store policies and practices.

Now playing: Watch this: Epic vs. Apple lawsuit heads to trial in 2021

Apple's submission of its tentative witness list marks some of the final steps the companies are taking before their upcoming trial, due to begin May 3. The two massive companies -- one makes the iPhone; the other makes one of the most popular games in the world -- have been fighting in courts and in public over how app stores work on smartphones and who gets how much money when people buy items in games and other apps.

Boil it down and this looks like a corporate slap fight over who gets how much profit when gamers buy a new way for their Fortnite character to dance or a new look for one of their virtual weapons. But Epic sees it as a battle for independence, and Apple views it as a clash over the future of how app stores work.

Apple forces app developers to use its payment processing systems, and it charges a commission of up 30% on all those new character costumes you can buy in a game, something Epic's Tim Sweeney says is unfair. In letters to Apple, and then in his company's lawsuit against the iPhone maker, he's argued that developers themselves should be able to choose their payment processors, circumventing Apple's commission. Sweeney says extra money can be passed on to gamers as a price cut to customers, which he's offered, or to developers to help fund their next big hit.

The battle boiled over in August last year, when Epic chose to turn on hidden code in its Fortnite mobile game on the iPhone and on devices powered by Google's Android, allowing people to choose which payment processor they used, and thus get a discount if they chose Epic's. Both Apple and Google swiftly removed Fortnite from their stores, and Epic responded with lawsuits that argued both companies were abusing their market power.

Epic isn't the only one pressing Apple and Google over antitrust concerns. Legislators and regulators around the world have increasingly begun investigations or considered rules to rein in what they say are monopolistic practices by tech's biggest companies, including Apple and Google. So far, they've done little, but the outcome of this lawsuit -- if it isn't settled before a verdict is handed down -- could change the course of how governments approach making their cases.

The Epic-Apple proceedings are expected to begin May 3 before Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. As with every other major tech event, CNET will be covering events as they happen, including with the kind of real-time updates, commentary and analysis you can get only here.