Google is testing a new method of selling subscription services with select Android developers that will allow customers to buy a subscription from the Play Store, without even needing to install the app first. The news, reported today by TechCrunch, was first hinted at last week when Google announced the Google Play Billing Library Version 3, an updated set of developer tools for processing Play Store payments and handling purchases of digital goods that coincided with the release of the Android 11 beta.
“Billing Library version 3 unlocks the ability for users to discover and purchase items outside of your app, such as across the Play store,” reads Google’s blog post. “One example is the new frictionless subscription promo code redemption experience.” For instance, Google imagines a situation in which a customer redeems a mobile app subscription promo code, say for a free trial, and then is automatically enrolled into a paid subscription that starts once the free trial ends. To allow that, Google is letting developers receive and process a future payment unless the customer opts out or cancels while the trial is still active.
Google wants to make it easier to pay upfront for a subscription service before you download the app
TechCrunch says the feature won’t just stop with promos. It will extend to proactive purchases of subscriptions through a Play Store listing. That way, you’ll be able to install and subscribe to an app while also getting the free trial all with one action. An example here is the robocall-blocking app TrueCaller, which has a three-day free trial before a $2.99-per-month subscription kicks in. Google now lets TrueCaller offer all of that in one bundle with a “free trial & install” option that exists next to the standard install button.
That way, if you installed the app without perhaps reading that it involved a paid subscription, you wouldn’t have to then go through the process of signing up and confirming payment details inside the app. Or you might not be turned off by discovering that the features that attracted you to the software in the first place required a subscription. You could do all this beforehand and be good to go when the app installs.
This all appears to be part of Google's broader effort to support digital subscription services and to reward developers that play by the rules. As TechCrunch points out, scores of mobile apps, usually called “fleeceware,” use misleading marketing and loopholes in the way mobile operating systems handle trials and subscriptions to get users to download an app and agree to a pricey subscription before using it. These apps often use the allure of a free trial to trick users into agreeing to dubious terms beforehand and making it hard to cancel after.
In April, Google said it would begin tightening rules around in-app subscriptions to make it easier to cancel them and to force developers to be more transparent around billing cycles, free trial periods, and other methods that could be used to scam users. The rules went into effect just yesterday.