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Phil Schiller retired from his role as Apple’s chief of marketing in 2020 to become an ‘Apple Fellow.’ Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Apple Turns to Longtime Steve Jobs Disciple to Defend Its ‘Walled Garden’

Former Chief Marketing Officer Phil Schiller has frequently made it clear that Apple doesn’t intend to yield to developer criticism

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Software developers and regulators battling

over how it grants access to its more than two billion active devices increasingly find themselves at odds with one man: Phil Schiller.

Apple’s former chief marketing officer and longtime “mini-me” to Steve Jobs has emerged as perhaps the most ardent public defender of the company’s ecosystem, a vision of electronic devices that work seamlessly together and protect user security and privacy.

Once seen as a virtue, Apple’s vision has increasingly come under attack, from regulators in the Justice Department, the European Union and other jurisdictions as well as from rivals including Spotify,

, , X and . Critics see Apple’s fees as excessive and have suggested its control of external software is oppressive and impeding innovation.

In legal filings, public announcements and courtrooms, Apple has made it clear that it isn’t going to go down without a fight, and more often than not, Schiller has been the one to deliver the message.

Phil Schiller, left, was a primary company witness in Epic Games’ antitrust lawsuit against Apple in 2021. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News

“I have no qualms in saying that our goal is going to always be to make the App Store the safest, best place for users to get apps,” Schiller recently told Fast Company. “I think users—and the whole developer ecosystem—have benefited from that work that we’ve done together with them. And we’re going to keep doing that.”

An Apple spokesman declined to make Schiller available. The spokesman said Apple complies with the law in countries where it does business and in a way that protects the user experience that its customers value.

Although Schiller retired from his role as chief of marketing in 2020, he continues as an “Apple Fellow,” a transition that led some Apple watchers to wonder whether he was close to retirement. Instead, he has become the public face of Apple’s efforts to defend itself.

He served as a primary company witness in “Fortnite”-maker Epic Games’ antitrust lawsuit against Apple in 2021. On the stand, Schiller made the case that Apple had invested in the store, worked to create a level playing field and avoided charging for certain kinds of apps. Apple largely prevailed in the case.


On social media and in media interviews, Schiller has frequently made it clear that Apple doesn’t intend to yield to developer criticism. In February, he chided the chief executive of Epic Games for criticizing Apple’s plan for complying with a new law called the Digital Markets Act in Europe requiring it to allow software downloads outside of the app store.

“Your colorful criticism of our DMA compliance plan, coupled with Epic’s past practice of intentionally violating contractual provisions with which it disagrees, strongly suggest that Epic” doesn’t intend to follow the rules, he wrote in a Feb. 23 email that Epic published online. In March, Apple said the company had canceled Epic’s developer account, drawing criticism from an EU enforcement official. Apple reversed the decision shortly thereafter.

Schiller has warned that the new EU rules might lead to objectionable content that the App Store has always sought to prevent and said Apple was trying to minimize new security risks.

Defending the ‘walled garden’

Schiller’s strident advocacy is emblematic of Apple’s internal rancor over the fight, which many see as an existential challenge to the “walled garden” of controlled and connected devices and software that dates back to Jobs, the company’s co-founder. 


Other Apple executives including Chief Executive Tim Cook have also defended its approach. Cook, who often allows lieutenants to handle their areas of responsibility, defers to Schiller on some App Store matters, people familiar with the company said. Schiller oversees the App Store alongside marketing head Greg Joswiak and services chief Eddy Cue, but Schiller has acted as its most prominent advocate. 

Phil Schiller, with the mug, was a confidant of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, bottom left. Photo: ROBYN BECK/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

In its antitrust lawsuit against Apple filed Thursday, the Justice Department invoked its case against Microsoft filed in 1998 and noted that Jobs used to rail against what he viewed as Microsoft’s anticompetitive tactics to protect its dominance in the PC market. Bill Gates has since said the company’s legal fights were a distraction that contributed to Microsoft’s failure to gain a lasting foothold in the emerging world of mobile operating systems.

After so many years of fighting, Microsoft changed tack after settling the case in 2001, promoting Brad Smith to general counsel the following year. In Smith’s pitch to Microsoft’s board of directors to take the job, he presented them with a single slide that said: “It’s time to make peace.”

Such a detente is unlikely for Apple while Schiller remains at the company, said Phillip Shoemaker, who ran the store’s review group under Schiller until 2016. “He’s a brick wall when it comes to these matters,” Shoemaker said. “I just don’t think he’s ever going to leave.”


Apple has strongly denied any comparisons with the Microsoft case. In response to the Justice Department, Apple said it plans to “vigorously” defend against the lawsuit. “It would also set a dangerous precedent, empowering government to take a heavy hand in designing people’s technology,” a spokesman said in a statement on Thursday.

In Europe, Apple was fined about $2 billion earlier this month over allegations related to its App Store policies and the company is the subject of two investigations under a new EU digital competition law.

Carrying Steve Jobs’s torch

Schiller, 63 years old, who had worked at Apple earlier, returned to the company in 1997 and quickly became one of Jobs’s closest confidants as the co-founder turned the company around from the brink of bankruptcy. He worked on the development and marketing of almost every product that aided in Apple’s rise, including the iPod’s click wheel because he thought users needed a way to scroll through songs with just one hand.


People close to Schiller describe his three main hobbies as cars, Boston sports teams and Apple, where he is still known to work nearly 80 hours a week, respond to emails almost immediately and answer phone calls at any time. He is also heavily involved in philanthropic endeavors, including an institute at Boston College, his alma mater, that carries his name, the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society.

Schiller was an early supporter of welcoming third-party apps onto the iPhone, but he and other executives had to convince Jobs, who was wary of allowing a software experience over which Apple couldn’t maintain tight control. As executives including Schiller came up with a process that would allow Apple to closely review any software allowed on the phone, Jobs eventually bought into the idea and launched the store in 2008, about a year after the iPhone came out.

Phil Schiller often mirrored Steve Jobs’s fierce competitiveness. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Apple came around to taking a 30% commission on paid apps or services purchased in the App Store. Initially, Jobs said in 2008 that the company didn’t “intend to make money off the App Store,” according to documents that came out in the Epic case.

After Jobs’s passing in 2011, Schiller kept Jobs’s philosophy alive across everything he did. The two were close, and Schiller often mirrored Jobs’s fierce competitiveness and tendency to praise Apple and disparage competitors. Inside Apple, he came to be referred to as Jobs’s “mini-me” due to the manner in which he often mirrored the company co-founder’s perspective.


“Of the people still at Apple, he is one of the few that still carry the torch of Steve Jobs’s vision,” said Tim Bajarin, a longtime Apple analyst who has known Schiller since his return to the company.

One thing Jobs insisted on in the App Review process is that the company should always have someone reviewing each app that made it into the store. Schiller continued that tradition, eschewing excessive use of artificial intelligence in favor of reviews and careful curation.


What is your outlook for Apple this year? Join the conversation below.

The App Store continued to grow. By 2016, the money Apple was making from the App Store surpassed its iPad or Mac sales, according to internal documents revealed at the Epic trial.

But soon app developers began making their long-simmering unhappiness with the App Store known.

Schiller attempted to make small concessions. He had proposed reducing App Store fees as far back as 2011, according to documents released in the Epic case. At the height of developer backlash in November 2020, he reduced the company’s commission to 15% for apps that make less than $1 million a year.

Those price cuts haven’t hurt the App Store’s revenue. The company’s services unit, which includes other businesses, topped $85 billion in revenue in the most recent fiscal year and has continued to grow at a brisk pace. Schiller and other top company leaders are determined to keep developers and antitrust enforcers in the U.S., Europe and beyond from changing that.

“This is a battle for the soul of Apple,” said Michael Gartenberg, who worked in Apple’s worldwide product marketing group until 2016 while Schiller was still overseeing that team. “Governments around the world are trying to take apart Apple’s DNA strand by strand.”

Apple’s services unit topped $85 billion in revenue in the most recent fiscal year. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Write to Aaron Tilley at aaron.tilley@wsj.com and Kim Mackrael at kim.mackrael@wsj.com


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Appeared in the March 28, 2024, print edition as 'Disciple of Jobs Leads Apple’s Public Defense'.

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