App stores are typically described as walled gardens, but some walls are higher than others. Google announced plans to make it easier to use third-party app stores on smartphones starting with Android 12, which is coming next year.
These changes are still on the drawing board, so it’s not clear what they will entail. The goal is to make using other app stores a smoother experience without compromising the phone’s security.
Google already allows other app stores – actually, most phones ship with at least two stores, says the search giant. Each store gets to choose its business terms, e.g. how big a cut it gets from app sales and in-app purchases (IAP). These cuts are the reason that Fortnite can be downloaded from Epic’s own store or from Samsung’s Galaxy Apps, but not from the Play Store.
Speaking of in-app purchases, a change is coming. Starting on September 30 2021 (a year from now), Google will enforce the rule that all in-app purchases go through the Google Play billing system.
This rule is already in place, it just hasn’t been enforced strictly. Play provides a trusted platform for consumers, Google says, and shouldn’t be a problem as less than 3% of developers sold IAPs over the last 12 months. Of those, essentially all (97%) already use the Play billing system.
Google points out that it only charges a “service fee” on IAPs, but leaves out that that is a 30% cut of the price. Also, the majority of apps don’t have much revenue, it’s the few “whales” that account for most of the IAPs in terms of dollars.
Epic, Spotify and others launched the “Coalition for App Fairness” that targets the Apple App Store and its 30% fee on sales (specifically, how it treats Apple’s own apps vs. third-party apps). So far it has left Google alone (even though Google removed Fortnite from the Play Store), it will be interesting to hear an opinion of today’s announcement from the Coalition.