Tesla CEO Elon Musk attacked Apple’s controversial practice of charging commissions for iPhone app makers Friday, a seemingly out-of-left-field critique that comes as Musk vigorously denies reports he discussed selling Tesla to Apple five years ago — but that he said he’d only do a deal if he replaced Apple CEO Tim Cook at the tech giant’s helm.
In a Friday afternoon tweet, Musk called Apple’s fees for App Store purchases a “de facto global tax on the Internet,” lending support to Epic Games, which is currently suing Apple over the commission system.
It’s not clear why Musk — who often uses Twitter to opine on unrelated topics — chose to lash out at Apple, but hours earlier, the Los Angeles Times published a surprising tale about an explosive purported conversation between Musk and Cook, part of the Times’ review of Wall Street Journal reporter Tim Higgins’ soon-to-be-released book on Tesla.
Higgins wrote that Cook floated buying the then-struggling Tesla in a phone call ahead of the carmaker’s 2016 Model 3 launch, but Musk insisted on becoming Apple’s CEO as a condition of the sale, leading Cook to say “f*** you” and hang up on Musk.
Musk denied this claim Friday and called Higgins’ book “false” and “boring”: Musk said he’s never spoken with Cook, claiming he was open to selling Tesla to Apple years ago but Cook declined an invitation to talk.
Cook told the New York Times’ Kara Swisher earlier this year he’s never spoken to Musk, though he expressed “great admiration and respect for the company he’s built.”
Forbes has reached out to Apple and Tesla for comment.
Musk first said that he’d made an unsuccessful overture to speak with Cook last December, after Reuters reported that Apple aimed to start making self-driving cars by 2024. Musk claimed he reached out to Cook to propose an acquisition during the “darkest days of [Tesla’s] Model 3 program,” which led to production difficulties and heavy losses for the automaker in 2017 and 2018. Cook refused to meet about a sale, Musk said. Since then, Tesla’s revenue and market capitalization have grown substantially.
“There was a point where I requested to meet with Cook to talk about Apple buying Tesla,” Musk tweeted Friday afternoon. “There were no conditions of acquisition proposed whatsoever.”
By siding with Epic Games in its dispute against Apple, Musk is wading into a contentious debate about Apple’s power over app makers. Both Apple and Google charge commissions of 15% to 30% for all in-app purchases through their iPhone and Android app stores, respectively. App designers and some government officials have cast this system as anti-competitive, but the two tech companies argue these commissions are inline with industry standards and their restrictive policies ensure app stores are safe and user-friendly.
Review: A deep new history of Tesla takes the shine off Elon Musk (Los Angeles Times)