File photo: Fortnite game graphic is displayed on a smartphone in front of Apple logo in this illustration.
File photo: Fortnite game graphic is displayed on a smartphone in front of Apple logo in this illustration. Image Credit: REUTERS

Brussels: Apple must explain its decision to halt Epic Games' effort to develop a competing app store for its devices, EU regulators said Thursday, as they consider whether the iPhone-maker violated any laws.

"We have requested further explanations on this from Apple under the DMA," a spokesperson for the European Commission, the EU's powerful antitrust regulator, said, referring to the bloc's new landmark Digital Markets Act.

The DMA orders the world's biggest tech companies to open up their platforms to competition, including allowing rival application stores on devices.

Six of the biggest companies designated as "gatekeepers" had until the end of Thursday to comply with tough new DMA rules.

Fortnite-maker Epic on Wednesday said its first effort to introduce its own stores on the iPhone was rejected, in what it views as punishment for public criticism of Apple.

"We see Apple's decision to block us from competing as a blatant effort to kneecap their leading competitor as enabled by the DMA," Epic CEO Tim Sweeney told reporters.

The spokesperson for the commission said it was "also evaluating whether Apple's actions raise doubts on their compliance" with two other EU laws regulating digital players.

That was because of links between Apple's developer programme membership and its App Store, which is designated as a "very large" online platform under the EU's Digital Services Act (DSA).

Apple compliance with the DSA - a content moderation law - means any decisions to suspend or terminate accounts must be "proportionate and in due regard to fundamental rights," the spokesperson said.

Companies such as Apple that have to comply with an EU Platform-to-Business regulation should notify a business user when terms and conditions are changed and before an account is shut down.

Let battle commence

Epic Games a few years ago embarked on a mission through courts and regulators to demand that Apple and Google open up their iPhone and Android devices to competing app stores and stop taking a significant commission for purchases made on their devices.

The EU included clauses responding to that demand in its DMA.

But it appeared implementation would not be smooth sailing.

Sweeney compared Apple's actions to "feudal lords mounting the skulls of their former enemies on their castle" in an effort "to dissuade others" from speaking out.

Specifically, Apple on March 2 closed Epic's developer account that allowed it to build the software necessary to launch its stand alone stores on Apple devices.

In a letter made available by Epic, a lawyer for Apple cites the frequent criticism made by Sweeney against Apple as well as past behaviour in which Epic flouted Apple's app store rules.

"Epic's egregious breach of its contractual obligations to Apple led courts to determine that Apple has the right to terminate (Epic activity) at any time and at Apple's sole discretion," an Apple spokesperson said in an email to AFP.

"In light of Epic's past and ongoing behaviour, Apple chose to exercise that right," the spokesperson added.

For Epic, the rejection demonstrated that "Apple has no intention of allowing true competition" on Apple devices.

Given the clear violation of the DMA, "there needs to be swift action," Sweeney said.

Apple needs "to be called out for what they're doing in the same way that any other person would be called out if they violated the law in this way," he said.

"We are very confident that this is exactly the type of action that the DMA was designed to try to get at," said Corie Wright, vice president of public policy for Epic Games.