Google Pulls an Apple with Play Store Rules

Posted on September 25, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Google, Mobile with 76 Comments

It looks like Google is fully committed to copying Apple as much as possible, and whether it’s for good or for bad. In this case, it’s for bad: The search giant plans to push Android app developers to give the company a cut of any in-app purchases through its Play Store, according to a new Bloomberg report.

Google will issue revised Play Store guidelines for Android app developers as soon as next week, the publication claims, requiring most apps to use Google’s billing service for in-app content downloads, game upgrades, and subscriptions. As is the case with Apple’s unfair policies on iOS, this system gives the company a 30 percent cut of any purchases inside of mobile apps on Android.

Bloomberg notes that Google has technically required this for years, but as is so often the case on Android, major developers—including Epic Games, Netflix, and Spotify—have been able to circumvent the rules by simply taking direct credit card payments, bypassing the Google vig.

The change—or, clarification, I guess—comes in the wake of Epic implementing in-game purchases in Fortnite on both Android and iOS, triggering both Apple and Google to ban the app on their respective platforms. Epic launched lawsuits against both companies for these actions. But Apple to date has had much stricter rules for app makers. And it’s been more aggressive about policing its rules, no matter how bad it makes the firm look to the public. Apparently, Google wanted a piece of that attention.

“As an open platform, Android allows multiple app stores,” a Google statement notes. “In fact, most Android devices come with at least two stores right out of the box, and users can install others. For developers who choose to distribute their apps on Google Play, our policy has always required them to use Play’s billing system if they offer in-app purchases of digital goods. We are always working with our partners to clarify these policies and ensure they are applied equitably and reasonably.”

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Comments (83)

83 responses to “Google Pulls an Apple with Play Store Rules”

  1. hefisa

    Not funny Google, yet on Android there are in fact other stores to choose from, Apple no so much

  2. ontariopundit

    It is mind boggling that we have people self righteously pontificating on how evil Apple (and now Google) is because Apple wants a cut of the pie of apps sold on its marketplace.


    Walmart and Costco set the prices in their stores and have certain requirements for their suppliers. If a company doesn't want to sell its wares through Walmart or Costco or submit to their demands then they are free to not do business with these companies.


    This is EXACTLY the same. All we're seeing now is that some large companies (Epic, Spotify, etc) are trying to INCREASE THEIR PROFIT MARGIN by reducing other large companies' profit margins.


    Consumers won't see a single cent of this battle. Epic won't reduce prices (maybe they will briefly as a public relations stunt).


    Spotify, Google Music (whatever it's called this week) and Apple Music all charge the same for a subscription. Spotify won't turn around and reduce prices if it gets a lower or no cut situation on the App Store or on Google Play.


    All we're looking at is a battle of Titans and we won't be any better off either way! In fact, we may be worse off since Apple and Google will have less money in their research and development budget as a result of their phone investment so they'll be less likely to bother investing in that side of the business.

    • MikeCerm

      In reply to OntarioPundit:

      This is not the same. If you find Costco's terms disagreeable, you can sell your stuff at Target, Walmart, etc... or set up your own website and sell direct to the consumer. If you're a mobile app developer and you don't like Apple's terms, well, you have no choice but to agree to Apple's terms, because if you don't then half of your prospective market is closed off, and if you don't agree to Google's terms then there's the other half. This is quite different from the Costco example, because nobody is suggesting that Costco represents an anti-competitive monopoly.


      Because of the messed up way music royalties work, whatever Spotify pays Apple comes just reduces the amount that Spotify has to pay artists. So when Apple takes 30%, they're really just leaving less money to pay artists. Spotify doesn't make any money either way, which is why they're building a podcast portfolio.


      It's ridiculous that you think Apple and Google need money for R&D. Apple redesigns the iPhone once every 3 years. Neither company has produced any novel technological innovations in the last decade.

      • sammyg

        In reply to MikeCerm:

        Your analogy does not work either. Costco did not invent a shopping platform either. It is just plain shopping for products and the difference in the shopping experience is basically none. As in go buy toilet paper any place and the experience is exactly the same.


        Apple has created a platform, iOS devices, that offers a experience that many customers love. Privacy, security, ease of use, reliability etc..etc. Apple has provided an App Store for 3rd part app makers to sell their apps for Apple's platform and there are rules. Also the app maker also does not have to handle the the vetting process, the payment process and the storage (of the apps on a server) and delivery of the apps. Apple does all of that for a cut.



    • spiderman2

      In reply to OntarioPundit:

      It's kind of fine till you don't become anticompetitive

      Spotify 10$: 7 to spotify, 3 to apple

      Apple 10$: 7 to apple, 3 to apple

      Google 10$: 7 to google 3 to google

      In this case apple and google could sell their service at 7$

    • coachjonno

      In reply to OntarioPundit:

      Except if you distribute products to end users and use Costco and Walmart for distribution, you can opt out and use one of the many other stores to reach consumers. You can also sell direct. In the case of Apple, they have half the market and are both distributor and seller. You are not allowed to sell wares directly to the consumer either. They block it. It would be like Costco and Walmart each owned half the market of consumers and controlled the refrigerator in every consumer's home and do not allow you to install food directly into the consumers refrigerator because they control that as well.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Speaking of pontificating, what's really mind-boggling is that anyone would defend Apple's unfair business practices.
      • sammyg

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        I can get behind maybe they should lower the cost for in-app purchases but Netflix is very successful and I only use it on Apple devices and all transactions take place outside of the App Store and the app.


        The chief complainer is the very company that blatantly ripped off PUBG so badly its not even funny. It is super hard for me to get behind that, especially when Fortnight is printing money on a daily basis.


        Also most people, 99.9% of Apple device users are just that "users" and not developers. There are reasons many of us choose Apple products and one of them is the closed environment for privacy and security reasons. I do not want iOS opened to other apps stores for those reasons and that is why I choose them.


        Anroid also works for those that do not like Apple and is very successful especially in the world wide market. Android allows you to choose whatever apps store you want...and best of luck to you.

      • jedwards87

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        You mean Apple and Google's unfair business practices.

      • jdawgnoonan

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        I think Apple should be forced to allow other stores. Google allows other stores, most Android phones ship with an alternate store already installed, so I don't have half the issue with Google's policies as I do with Apple's.

    • nbplopes

      In reply to OntarioPundit:


      Probably you have seen by other answers how different this new reality is from analog.


      App Store is at its core a device to install apps on iOS. The rest are layers put around with one aim, tax for the use of the technology even though it was already payed by the device buyer. If it was a matter of security and privacy then for sure they would allow side loading applications ... other equality secured stores. Because privacy and security is a choice, only in dictatorships aren’t.


      This new reality pushes the requirement of being a computing device manufacturer for any sort of possibility for a direct transaction between businesses. Transactions are already all processed by computers. There is nothing that keeps Apple, Google or whoever in a position to to come up with this anti competitive policies on devices manufactured by them, to also collect 30% of the groceries you buy online, heck whatever in app ... even paying hospital bills. This never happened before, there is no parallel.


      But this is even worst if it spreads, Google is the first to follow, but other will .... How is it worst?


      Well, you see, general computing devices such as smartphones, tablets PC and more to come, are fundamentally Vehicles for the Mind and the Internet the highway. So effectively these new app installation policies are build to tax the use of these vehicles that carry ones mind, in other words are built to tax your mind. Your mind and related skills manifested in products, services or any other form of human expression are in the end the actual value you have to than transact with others. Nothing else.


      The market of this vehicles for the mind need to be regulated. Much like cars, electricity, communication infrastructure and many others are. Without any one of these Apple would not be able to operate, heck would not even exist. How much is this than worth? 30% of Apple? Their story tells a distorted vision of their worth. Yes their Smart Watches may help saving life ... so what? So do firefighters, nurses, policeman, emergency vehicles ... If Govs fail to regulate the way these devices can operate there is the potential for the all economy to be hijacked by these mega corps. The appetite is for sure there and has nothing to do with Privacy and Security. These are just values to market.


      You have kids, I have two. I don’t want this for them. This is coming from a person that uses mostly Apple devices ... not because of these policies of course.


      Make no mistake, this is pretty serious. As serious as social networks malpractices regarding privacy. Apple is just using their bad press to shake the water out of their umbrellas. They are using their customers as a product as much as the others are. How else could they feel the right to demand 30% of revenue from any business conducted on devices built by them that aren’t even theirs to begin with?


      Don’t get me wrong, I believe that Apple should be payed for the use of their SDKs, IDE’s and hosting the apps ... but at market prices, which is way way way lower that 30% of a businesses ... and in some cases ... is nothing. How I can they dare to tax books, videos, training and learning services ... you name it ... things that they do not host or sell in any way? How is this anyway defendable? Wallmart or Costco do not do this!!!!



  3. coachjonno

    Another example of why Microsoft needed to own a mobile ecosystem story. Access to back-end services can be gated by those who own the devices that give access to such services. If Apple and Google decided tomorrow to block any Microsoft application that consumed Azure and did not contribute financially but struck a financial deal with AWS (GCP already being supported in Android). Microsoft would have no recourse. Businesses would shift away from Azure. I cannot see that happening or the courts allowing it, but it can happen in little pieces.

  4. jwpear

    I'm not sure your typical consumer cares at all about this. Consumers see the same price for the app or service. They don't see that Apple or Google are getting 30 percent and that company x or y are only getting 70 percent. Consumers also don't see that they could be paying 30 percent less (or 20, 25, whatever) if Apple and Google weren't taking a chunk. They may perceive this as "Spotify, Epic, or whomever aren't going to pass that 20-30 percent on to me, so why care about any of these greedy tech companies."


    Maybe Google understands this and that's why they feel now is as good of a time as any to make the adjustment? I can't really think of any other reason why they would do this now. It doesn't make sense to throw fuel on the fire.

  5. davidl

    Microsoft Android App Store FTW

    • SvenJ

      In reply to davidl: So MS would get the 30%. They aren't a charity either. What would they put on it? Re-compiled Windows 10 Mobile apps?


      • davidl

        In reply to SvenJ:

        A totally "free" Android app store with the requirement you must have a Microsoft account to download apps from store.


        Microsoft gets more people in its ecosystem on mobile.


        Developers get an alternative to Google that costs them nothing except time to deploy to another app store.


        Users that don't trust Google get a new option for Android phones.

  6. jdawgnoonan

    Google allows other app stores and users who want those other app stores are allowed to install them, thus I do not see the similarity to Apple in Google's enforcing the policy that they have always had but not strictly enforced.

  7. F4IL

    Google allows multiple app stores and side-loading of first and third party applications on Android so this policy is in no way as egregious as apple's.

  8. illuminated

    Imagine if Samsung would have a "TV channel" store like an app store for TVs. They could charge every TV channel 30% and require each TV show to go through approval process. That would be awesome.

  9. nbplopes

    In reply to cavalier_eternal:


    Spotify is in violation of the App Store written policies. So Apple must be applying unwritten rules.


    So the idea that the written rules are applied to everyone is the actual BS.

  10. martinm

    Both companies, Apple and Google are just bullies. It comes with too much market share. Its long over due to have these companies taken to task and these policies stopped.

  11. MikeCerm

    In reply to cavalier_eternal:

    I don't think you understand how streaming royalties work. Yes, they are statutory, but how much a streaming service is required to pay is actually proportional to how much money the streaming service actually brings in. I know this makes no sense, but this is how streaming royalties work. This is why YouTube and Spotify pay drastically lower rates than Apple Music and Tidal. Each of those services bring in $10-20/user, because there is no free offering. Because the vast majority of Spotify and YouTube users don't pay anything (those services rely on ad revenue), they pay a drastically lower rate because the ad rates don't come anywhere close to $10/user/month.


    I wasn't aware that Spotify didn't offer users the option to upgrade in the app, but if they don't, then you can understand why. Spotify loses hundreds of millions of dollars every year, so having to pay Apple a 30% cut of the money they might make from in-app sales would only increase those losses.


    I'm not defending Spotify at all. When you read my first paragraph above and find out that they already pay lower royalty rates because they give away music for free, and they actually lose money in the process... it's just a very bad and weird system. It doesn't make sense that the law is written in a way that allows streaming services to pay lower royalties if they give music away for free. It makes no sense that investors (including recording labels) keep pumping money into Spotify, which has done about as much to devalue music Napster ever did, when all there's literally no possibility that they'll ever make money as a streaming music service. It's sort of like Uber... the only way Uber will ever earn a profit is if they somehow outlive all their competitors, and survive until they're able to replace all their drivers with self-driving cars.

  12. proftheory

    Hey if Apple ends up getting away with it why not Google do the same?

  13. jdawgnoonan

    In reply to retcable:

    I fully agree with you, and like you I have been on both sides of the fence. Today I also prefer the reliability, consistency, and security of a more stock phone, which is also what most users prefer because they never tried anything else. Probably the most common non phone OEM store is the Amazon App Store. Back in the day, and maybe they still do, they gave away a free paid app every day. My Samsung phone has the Galaxy store stock, and looking in that store it appears to have a lot of good apps. So without installing any alternate store on this phone I have an alternative to Play that is stock. All of us who want to criticize Google and Apple for their policies have no clue what costs are involved in running one of these stores. I certainly trust using Google's, or Apple's, or Samsung's payment process more than I would trust some Joe Blow the Developer's payment system.

  14. waethorn

    In reply to zicoz:

    Also, the cellular radio - the one thing that is most crucial to a device that should have open source software - is not open.

  15. nbplopes

    This was bound to happen. Next will be MS for sure.


    The inability of GOV to understand the digital medium and its commodities leads to the failure protecting the free digital circulation of goods across platforms. A principle that has lead to the push of digital economies ... is now in jeopardy.


    I think ISP should do the same to any transaction flowing on their networks.


    Heck, automobile constructors should also tax when put in gas.


    Electricity companies should tax 30% of the businesses using their power plants.


    Why don’t Apple, Google and Co also tax ISPs? After all the only reason they have a business is because these devices exists right?


    The amazing new world of egomaniacs. I would say the well known American egomania ... but heck they are doing this to their own people in many ways.


    The Trump effect.

  16. geoff

    A court could stamp out this obscene practice in a heartbeat.

    Apple and Google stores, as with any other store, must apply FRAND pricing.

    (That's Fair, Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory)


    App Store fees of about 2 or 3 % should be the result.


    Apple and Google seem to be daring the courts to do it.

    • datameister

      In reply to Geoff:


      At 2 or 3% they'd probably have to start charging free apps some kind of minor fee to be in the store.

    • bkkcanuck

      In reply to Geoff:

      2 to 3% is credit card charge rates - that would leave Apple with NOTHING (or less than nothing). As someone involved in developing a platform (long long ago - Financial network), the cost of running such a platform likely would run closer to 10% (guestimate without knowing the internals) without profitability. At that point you would also have to set a minimum transaction charge (effectively ridding the ecosystem of free apps).


      The iPhone (iOS platform) was created and still is a console.


      As far as FRAND, it is applicable only to 'standards' essential patents that effectively as a member you agree to license as FRAND for inclusion in a standard (lets say for LTE standard for interoperability). Effectively you take a smaller slice in exchange for being in the standard and guaranteed to have a slice of every single device that implements that standard. That would mean in this case Apple had a patent that was essential for a standard that all app stores must implement as a method of interoperability and in exchange they get a slice of every app store transaction out there (Google Play Store, Apple Store, Sony, Amazon, etc.).


      Of course there is no standards involved here (for interoperability using a standard)...

  17. geoff

    This is bizarre timing.

    Just as China is trying to remove US influence from products made in China. Just as the rest of the world is looking for products that won't become collateral damage in the USA-China bickering.

    Just as *everyone* is looking around for an alternative app store, Google, in effect, says "don't use the Play Store, go find something else".


    Huawei and Samsung must be laughing. People who normally wouldn't bother with those app stores will soon find that they become the primary app store that they use.

  18. Truffles

    In reply to RM:

    It's not a walled garden. The cost to a consumer wanting to exit iOS is pretty close to zero. Once the consumer's iPhone is due to be replaced the customer can easily switch to one of hundreds of non-Apple smartphones. Further, the cost of purchasing a full suite of close-substitute software is less than the price of a coffee, and in the vast majority of cases the software is free.


    Not.A.Walled.Garden.

  19. ngc224

    This is Google’s way to passive-aggressively pressure the government to put restrictions on Apple. Once the government puts restrictions on Apple, Google will “voluntarily” agree to accept the same restrictions.

    • MikeCerm

      In reply to ngc224:

      Hardly. This is just Google acting how a duopoly acts, "if Apple can do it, so can we." This removes pressure from Apple, because they can argue in court, "Google does the same thing, so therefore our policies are just following 'industry standards' so there is no abuse of power," as though the standards just naturally exist and are not dictated by Apple themselves.


      If Google wanted to put pressure on Apple, they would file an amicus brief and say that Apple's policies are egregious, and hold up Android as an example of how Apple should be made to operate -- allow alternate app stores, no confiscatory 30% cut with no exceptions -- because it works fine for Google and it's fair to consumers. This is just Google trying to harm their developers because no matter what terms Google and Apple decide, the developers have nowhere else to go.

      • Craig Smith

        In reply to MikeCerm: Exactly. The timing says it all. Google is enforcing the existing rule more strongly to help normalize the practice, which helps Apple and themselves. It's the app store version of price fixing. Corporations will work together (in secret, of course) when it is mutually beneficial.


  20. martinusv2

    Oh nice! We will get increased prices now. Way to go Google. Perhaps, not charging 30% but 5 to 10% would be better. You gonna copy the Apple One subscription next?

  21. waethorn

    Yup. Fair's fair.


    If you don't like it: too bad!


    "Smart" devices are all trash anyway. They're just spy devices. And consumers let them get as big as they are, so consumers only have themselves to blame.

  22. brandonmills

    You shouldn't be able to control the platform and the app storefront. Anti-trust regulation needs to break these apart.

    • waethorn

      In reply to BrandonMills:

      So because consumers can't curb their own obsessive behaviour and stop buying into these platforms, you want government to step in and regulate it? How dystopian.

      • codymesh

        In reply to Waethorn:

        ???? since when did anything government = dystopian?


        government stepping in would be the opposite of dystopia. What's really dystopian is the power megacorporations have.

        • waethorn

          In reply to codymesh:

          Any time ANYBODY steps in to tell consumer what is good for them is dystopian - it doesn't matter if it's a corporation or a government. Consumers chose Apple and Google, so the fault is on the consumer for leaving the market to only 2 real competitors. There were other choices before and nobody wanted to get away from their Facebook-centric, app-store, connected-device prison.

          • codymesh

            In reply to Waethorn:

            Consumers chose phones with features they want and need. Consumers didn't choose for 2 megacorporations to basically re-write the rules of mobile e-commerce as a whole.


            Also, there is absolutely zero guarantee that more competitors would somehow bring the 30% cut down. What we'd get is 3 megacorporations arguing for same 30% cut instead of 2.

            • waethorn

              In reply to codymesh:

              Consumers didn't choose outside of Apple and Google. Marketshare proved that. That, despite all of the privacy and pricing concerns of the two platforms (consider the price of a mainstream current iPhone now compared to even 6 years ago).


              And people here like to pretend that the 30% vig wasn't there from the start. Would someone like to historically document the history of Apple policy changes since the App Store launched?

              • Paul Thurrott

                There's no need for that. For the one millionth time, the rules are different when you don't have a monopoly. Now that Apple does, it's time to scrutinize its business practices and correct them.
                • waethorn

                  In reply to paul-thurrott:

                  Funny but they only obtained a majority marketshare in platform usage in the US between March and May of this year.


                  www.statista.com/statistics/266572/market-share-held-by-smartphone-platforms-in-the-united-states/

      • geschinger

        In reply to Waethorn:

        Of course, this type of scenario - two companies that form an duopoly implicitly agree to behave in the same ways ways that are anti-consumer - is what antitrust laws were designed to address. Nothing dystopian about that.

      • MikeCerm

        In reply to Waethorn:

        Consumers are not responsible for Apple and Google's policies, they're victims of them. Yes, the government should step in and protect consumers. The same way the the government says that you can't sell a car without seat belts and you can't feed lead paint to babies anymore, the government should look at the dystopian duopoly that exists in the mobile OS market and do something to protect consumers from the harm that Apple and Google do. The ideal time to do with would have been in 2010, when WebOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile were still alive, but now it's going to take a lot of aggressive regulation to unring the bell.

        • toukale

          In reply to MikeCerm:

          Here is the problem with your theory, as far as I can tell, consumers are not getting harm at all. Apps/software have never been cheaper and there are no shortage of available software for those platforms. If anything, one can argue we have too much crap on those stores. The issues is a B to B issue with one group trying to get a better piece of the pie. Stop trying to bring consumer harm into this when the majority of them likes the current arrangement.

          • Paul Thurrott

            The Dictator appreciates your blind support.
          • SvenJ

            In reply to toukale: Absolutely right. I'm not being harmed. I happen to choose Apple, but have a Pixel as well. I don't pay anymore for apps one on vs the other, but one is fairly consistently better, even with the same title. I have an iPhone, iPad, Apple watch, AirPods, because they work, and work together. Find a similar situation in Android land that doesn't require all devices to be Samsung, or Huawei. I don't have to do it that way. I can get Samsung buds and Fitbit for my iPhone, but I chose not to. I have more frickin' choice than I know what to do with. This is Epic and others wanting the 30% for themselves, not to give it back to consumers, and I bet their programmers won't get a 30% raise if they win.


          • geschinger

            In reply to toukale:


            It couldn't be more obvious how consumers are harmed.


            Digital Content / Services where Apple is adding no value - think eBooks, Spotify subscriptions etc.. are either more expensive to account for the Apple tax - i.e. Spotify had to be marked up to $12.99 vs $9.99 everywhere else or there can be no method to sign up at all in the app. Either option harms consumers. To make matters worth, Apple will ban apps if they dare even mention anything about their website or anything else that could provide a path for consumers to sign up. There is no way to spin any of that as anything other than harmful to consumers.

  23. scovious

    In the long term none of this matters because the world is starting to see Google and Apple for what they are; Countries and governments are closing in on them and they have lost all their public support and high moral status. Apple and Google are rabid, desperate, and plainly pathetic in their attempt to wring every dollar out of it's digital storefront customers and developers.


    I personally can't wait to see how far they fall once they understand there is no precedent for their behavior and copying each others malpractice isn't actually validating it - justice is going to be sweet when it finally rolls around.

  24. shmuelie

    I honestly can't for the life of me figure out why Google thinks this is a good time to do this?!?

    • SvenJ

      In reply to Shmuelie: Maybe because the folks who build and support the apps stores, ecosystems and clientele that make it possible for game studios and other developers to have a ready market, and become billion dollar businesses, need to show some solidarity.


  25. bart

    Fingers crossed for an viable alternative app store on Android. But this is no coincidence with the EU breathing down Apple and Google's neck

  26. madthinus

    The first thing you do when you are trying to get yourself out of a hole is the put the shovel down.

  27. david.thunderbird

    Google just threw another brick out of their glass house, bet they wonder "what is that sucking sound".

  28. proftheory

    So does this signal that Google may hinder the side loading of APPlicationS on Android 11 or 12?

  29. codymesh

    but but but Android is open-source which means freeeeeeeedom!

  30. rmac

    ..one good reason not to go down the Flutter & Dart root.

  31. peterc

    This and apples behaviour is why I installed the Huawei App gallery and hms core on my second/back up oneplus 7 to see how viable it was becoming....


    Huawei harmony os handsets will be an interesting release when they arrive in 2021, and seeing as most Chinese android handset brands have now developed their own android UI it will be interesting to see if they will also work on harmony os, I believe they will.


    It does appear we’re nearing a fork in the road regarding proprietary app stores and android in general .... one way or another.

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