Elon Musk, the owner of Twitter, has been poking Apple, the big bear of Silicon Valley, which controls app delivery to every iPhone, during the last week.
Musk has been criticizing Apple on a variety of issues, including its reduced investment in Twitter advertising and its 30% cut of all digital transactions made through apps. He further claimed that Apple threatened to remove the Twitter app from the App Store.
Musk said in one deleted tweet that he was “going to war.” In another, he wondered if Apple despises free expression. He fantasized about building his own smartphone over the weekend.
Musk has kept provoking Apple, but the company has stayed quiet. It hasn’t said anything, and neither has CEO Tim Cook. Apple’s app review staff may be talking to Twitter behind the scenes about the app’s content, but the app hasn’t been taken down. In fact, Twitter got a new version last week through an app review.
From a business point of view, Twitter is not that important to Apple. It’s just one of many apps in the App Store, and Apple doesn’t make a lot of money from in-app purchases.
But on Tuesday, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Ohio Senator-elect J.D. Vance said things about Apple’s situation that show Musk could put Apple in a tough spot.
Here’s one possibility:
- Musk makes changes to Twitter to get around Apple’s 30% fees, like letting users plug their credit cards into the app to subscribe to Twitter Blue or other new features.
- Apple takes the app away because of these rules being broken.
- Musk says that the dispute with Apple is about free speech and content moderation, and Republican politicians agree.
- Apple’s App Store becomes the center of a national debate about free speech and monopoly power.
Musk wants Twitter to make a lot more money from direct subscriptions instead of advertising. But Apple’s 30% cut in app purchases is a big problem for a company that is cutting costs and has a lot of debt.
So Musk could do what Epic Games did and allow direct billing. This would force Apple to do something while also putting the focus on free speech. DeSantis said that if that happened, Congress might start to ask questions. Apple would be used as a political football. Executives could be forced to answer questions in person or in writing.