Google is outlining new changes to its developer policies and promising to make using third-party app stores easier on Android 12. The announcement addresses recent concerns around Android app development, including a fight over alternate in-app payment systems and difficulties for businesses moving online because of COVID-19.
Android users can already install apps through third-party stores like Samsung’s Galaxy Store. Google says that in response to developer feedback, it’s adding features to next year’s Android 12 release that will “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.” It will release more details on these changes in the future.
Google isn’t, by contrast, relaxing its grip on in-app payments for Play Store apps. The company says that “all developers selling digital goods in their apps are required to use Google Play’s billing system,” and it’s tweaking language in its payment policy to make that clear. Any app that’s not already using the system for digital goods will be required to add it by September 30th, 2021.
This has been a sticking point for Epic Games, whose title Fortnite was kicked off the Play Store in August after Epic added support for an alternate billing method. Fortnite is currently only available through third-party stores and Epic’s website, and Google doesn’t appear to be backing down — it specifically references Fortnite as an example of how “even if a developer and Google do not agree on business terms the developer can still distribute on the Android platform.”
There’s one particularly complicated in-app purchase category: businesses that started letting users sell “virtual” versions of their normal non-digital offerings during the coronavirus pandemic. These companies, including Airbnb and ClassPass, have complained about being asked to pay a new service fee on iOS.
Apple has begun waiving these fees in some circumstances, and Google says these businesses won’t have to use Android’s Google Play billing for the near future. “We recognize that the global pandemic has resulted in many businesses having to navigate the challenges of moving their physical business to digital and engaging audiences customers in a new way, for example, moving in-person experiences and classes online,” it says. “For the next 12 months, these businesses will not need to comply with our payments policy, and we will continue to reassess the situation over the next year.”