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Is Fortnite ever coming back to iPhone? It’s complicated

Published Jan 21st, 2024 9:02AM EST
Gaming on iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max.
Image: Apple inc.

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All the talk about Apple having to allow third-party payments on iPhone in the US and Epic’s annoyance with losing the Apple trial for good made plenty of people forget about the elephant in the room. Fortnite, one of the most popular games in history, is not coming back to the iPhone anytime soon. At the same time, Fortnite’s relaunch on iPhone seems imminent.

How can both of these things be true simultaneously? Well, if you have been following the iPhone for as long as I have, including the entire Epic saga, you’ve probably guessed what’s happening with Fortnite next. I’ll explain it all below.

Why Fortnite isn’t coming to iPhone anytime soon

Both Apple and Epic had appealed in the Epic vs. Apple case, but the Supreme Court denied both of them. As a reminder, the previous verdict stands, which is an overwhelming victory for Apple in a case that Epic engineered by abusing the App Store rules to get Fortnite banned all those years ago. 

Apple did lose one thing. It has to allow developers in the US to place a link to their websites and stores, where they can steer buyers to buy content. But Apple will still collect 27% or 12% off of those iPhone app sales. It’s lower than the 30%/15% tax, but it’s not going to translate into meaningful savings. I already explained why I won’t go down this route, and I won’t do it again. 

What I’m getting at is that Epic was not happy with the outcome. It was not happy at all. While most reports focused on the new App Store rules for the iPhone, the verdict remains that Fortnite can’t return to the App Store. That is, Apple will not relist the app. 

The developer, Epic, has to apply for that to happen. And it has to agree with the App Store rules that are in effect, which include paying fees to Apple. Considering Tim Sweeney’s reactions on Twitter, it’s unlikely Epic will swallow its pride and come kiss the ring. Even if it might be losing hundreds of millions in revenue as a result. 

It gets worse for Epic. The game studio has to pay Apple some $73 million in expenses for the trial. It’s apparently something Epic agreed to pay if it lost. Well, it lost, and Apple isn’t likely to leave that money on the table.

So yeah, Fortnite fans, don’t expect to see the game in the App Store anytime soon. However…

Why the Fortnite iPhone relaunch is imminent…

The fallout from the Epic vs. Apple case is only a part of the antitrust pressure on Apple. The iPhone vendor might have won its case against Epic, and for good reason, but it has bigger problems than Fortnite. 

We’re getting close to that March 7th deadline, which means little for US iPhone owners. But over in Europe, we’re going to get iPhone sideloading support. As much as I hate the idea, I will be able to install apps from any source I want to come March 7th. That’s when Apple will implement the changes in iOS 17 to make that happen. Word on the street is that Apple is ready for sideloading. 

You’ve probably realized where I’m going with this. Come March, the Digital Markets Act (DMA) will make it possible for companies like Epic to offer alternative app stores to buyers. They’ll be able to offer direct downloads of apps and games and third-party payments. I still expect Apple to hang on to that 27% fee when it comes to the latter. 

With that in mind, I think it’s extremely likely for Epic to prepare a Fortnite relaunch on iPhone and iPad in Europe. Sweeney is certainly aware of the deadline, at least. 

Also, remember that Fortnite came as a sideload on Android all those years ago. 

I am just speculating, of course. There’s no indication that Epic is moving forward with Fortnite sideloads for the EU region. Also, Epic could always choose to admit defeat and beg Apple to relist Fortnite worldwide. But the cases I presented above are more likely to happen. 

Remember that Japan and the US are also considering legislation similar to the DMA. That means iPhone sideloading might happen in more markets in the not-too-distant future. On that note, I do think Apple should launch sideloading globally and score a great PR victory rather than keep resisting it, but that’s another topic.

Meanwhile, you can play Fortnite on non-Apple devices or stream it to iPhone and iPad via game streaming platforms. 

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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