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Elon Musk is taking issue with the App Store, but Apple may have the last word

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Twitter owner Elon Musk has picked yet another fight, and this time it is with Apple. Musk is taking on the tech giant as concerns grow that it could remove Twitter from its App Store. That would prove devastating to Twitter's business.

For more, we're joined by NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn. And we should note, Apple is among NPR's financial supporters. Hey there, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Tell me more about what exactly Elon Musk is saying about Apple.

ALLYN: Yeah. I mean, we know by now that Musk likes tweeting internal company tidbits, and that is what he did. Musk wrote yesterday that Apple has threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but that Apple won't tell him why. Musk then declared through a meme that he intends to go to war with Apple. He's since deleted that tweet, but the sentiment still stands - right? - that Musk is here antagonizing Apple. And yeah, in this fight, Musk just has everything to lose.

KELLY: That's interesting. Why? Why does Apple command so much control over Twitter?

ALLYN: Yeah. It's because Twitter is incredibly dependent on people scrolling on their phones. Twitter is mostly a phone experience. And in order to be downloaded in Apple's App Store, there's a long list of rules that have to be followed. There are rules against violent content and about - you know, rules against making threats to people's safety. There's rules against bullying. Pornography is not allowed in the App Store.

And remember, the social media app Parler, once popular with Trump supporters, that app, Parler, was, you know, kicked out of the App Store for violating Apple's rules. And that completely kneecapped the app. So this is a hugely consequential fight because there is no one else sort of providing a check on Musk's decisions at Twitter.

KELLY: What is Apple saying? Have they confirmed that they are indeed considering kicking Twitter out of the App Store?

ALLYN: Not so far. But, you know, Apple is a famously guarded company. And they really, as a matter of policy, never give any hints about their App Store decisions.

KELLY: I see. So, Bobby, I'm trying to get my head around how Musk is thinking about a potential App Store ban. What else has he actually said?

ALLYN: Yeah. He said if, you know, Twitter was banned by Apple, that he would create his own smartphone. That, of course, generated a lot of headlines. And look; yes, Musk is a successful businessman. He runs Tesla and SpaceX. But he's also known for fanciful ideas that never come to fruition. And at this point, I think it's safe to say that a Musk smartphone can be added to his pipe dream list.

But he's also used the battle with Apple as an opportunity to draw attention to something else and that's the 30% commission Apple slaps on apps that required paid subscriptions and purchases made in apps. Musk tweeted, quote, "did you know Apple puts a secret 30% tax on everything you buy through their App Store?" Now, let me say, Mary Louise, in tech policy circles, this couldn't be less of a secret. The 30% so-called Apple tax has been hotly debated for many, many years.

KELLY: If it has been hotly debated for many years, why is Musk fired up and attacking this 30% tax now?

ALLYN: It's because part of his plan for revamping Twitter is finding ways other than advertising to make money. His No. 1 plan so far is a subscription service, being able to pay $8 a month for a blue check. Now, Apple is poised to take about 30% of all those purchases, which, you know, has been the case really forever whenever you buy anything in Apple's App Store. But Musk seems to be just now realizing it.

It's important to emphasize here that Musk isn't alone in criticizing the 30% commission. I mean, developers large and small, lawmakers from both parties, regulators, even a federal judge have all called it unfair. But Apple says it's necessary to pay for the staff to keep the company's app review process in place.

KELLY: NPR's Bobby Allyn. Thanks.

ALLYN: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.