Android Developers Have One Year to Switch to Google Billing

Posted on September 28, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Dev, Mobile with 42 Comments

Google confirmed that it will begin enforcing the use of its own payment system in the Play Store, but it’s giving developers one year to make the switch.

“We’ve always required developers who distribute their apps on Play to use Google Play’s billing system if they offer in-app purchases of digital goods, and pay a service fee from a percentage of the purchase,” Google writes in its Android Developer blog, noting that it has not enforced this policy to date. “We want to be sure our policies are clear and up to date so they can be applied consistently and fairly to all developers, and so we have clarified the language in our Payments Policy to be more explicit that all developers selling digital goods in their apps are required to use Google Play’s billing system.”

News of this change was leaked last week by Bloomberg, and while most would agree that 30 percent fees in an app store are disproportionately high, we can at least give Google some credit for not being as terrible as Apple: The firm doesn’t prevent app developers from communicating with its own customers, it supports the use of rival, third-party app stores on its mobile platform, and it won’t block game-streaming apps.

“Developers have told us it is very important to be able to speak directly with their customers without significant restrictions,” the firm notes of the first condition. “As app developers ourselves, we agree wholeheartedly and our policies have always allowed this.”

As for third-party app stores, Google believes that developers should have a choice in how they distribute their apps, and that any app stores on Android should be able to compete fairly for the consumer’s and the developer’s businesses.

“Android has always allowed people to get apps from multiple app stores,” Google explains. “In fact, most Android devices ship with at least two app stores preinstalled, and consumers are able to install additional app stores … we will be making changes in Android 12 (next year’s Android release) to make it even easier for people to use other app stores on their devices while being careful not to compromise the safety measures Android has in place. We are designing all this now and look forward to sharing more in the future.”

That’s all very nice, but the central issue, here, of course, is the 30 percent fee that Google, like Apple, charges through its own store. And Google, like Apple, will soon enforce the use of its own in-app payment system in its store, ensuring that it gets its cut of any transactions on digital goods that occur through apps downloaded from the Google Play Store.

Interestingly, Google says that this requirement will not impact 97 percent of the apps in the store. “Less than 3 percent of developers with apps on Play sold digital goods over the last 12 months, and of this 3 percent, the vast majority (nearly 97 percent) already use Google Play’s billing,” the firm explains.

Of course, some of the mobile app world’s heaviest hitters—companies like Epic Games, Netflix, and Spotify—are among those 3 percent. And that’s why Google is clarifying its rules: It wants to make sure that some of the biggest revenue-generators in the store are contributing their 30 percent fees.

A related developer FAQ also addresses some other issues that have come to a head in recent days. For example, Google does and will continue to allow cloud-based game streaming apps in its store, unlike Apple. And any app can be consumption-only, even if it is part of a paid service, again unlike Apple. “For example, a user could login when the app opens and the user could access content paid for somewhere else,” the FAQ says.

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