After some confusion—and after watching Apple take heat over its iOS App Store policies—Google is clarifying how and when it plans to take its cut of paid apps in the Google Play Store.
According to an Android Developers blog published today, any developer with an app on Google Play that has to do some “technical work” to integrate Google’s billing system will have until Sept 30, 2021 to comply. That means those developers can continue collecting direct payments from customers without having to give Google its 30% cut for the next year. That deadline will likely coincide with the release of Android 12; Android 11 rolled out widely earlier this month. Android 12 will also make it easier for developers to offer their apps on third-party app stores.
This new policy is part of a larger push on Google’s part to make its Google Play policies clearer to developers, and to continue its support for developers who also want their apps on other stores across multiple platforms. The 1-year “get out of jail free” card is really for businesses with a main physical storefront who had to move to an all-digital platform to stay afloat during the pandemic.
“We have heard feedback that our policy language could be more clear regarding which types of transactions require the use of Google Play’s billing system, and that the current language was causing confusion,” wrote Google Vice President of Product Management Sameer Samat.
Google is now requiring developers to use Google Play’s billing system for apps and downloads if the system is already integrated in the app, and developers must use that system to charge for in-app features or services. There are a few exceptions to the rules, which go into effect Jan. 20, including payment for physical goods and apps that enable money transfers, like Venmo.
While it seems like Google is becoming more like Apple by requiring developers to charge their customers using Google’s billing system, the company couldn’t be more clear about continuing to support Android’s open API platform.
“We believe that developers should have a choice in how they distribute their apps and that stores should compete for the consumer’s and the developer’s business,” Samat said.
Those choices include allowing users to set default messaging, keyboard, phone dialer, or other app from a developer of their choice.
“This openness means that even if a developer and Google do not agree on business terms, the developer can still distribute on the Android platform,” he added.
A developer doesn’t have to use the Google Play Store to make an app available on Android. Samat pointed out that Fortnite is available on Android via Epic’s website or Samsung’s Galaxy App store; Google removed Fortnite from its store after Epic Games purposefully violated its policies. Samat also clarified that developers “can communicate with their customers directly about pricing, offers, and alternative ways beyond their app via email or other channels.”
Basically, developers are allowed to tell their users about the other places they can download their app if they don’t want their information going through Google’s billing system—a practice that Apple prohibits per its App Store guidelines.
There is an argument to be made about the amount that Google takes from developers, but at least Google offers a workaround. That might just save the company from an antitrust ruling.