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Google may be prepping a Google Play subscription called "Play Pass"

Google Play Store
Google Play Store (Image credit: Android Central)

Enterprising developers tear through every line of code in Google apps looking for hints and hidden treasure maps that lead them to the next great feature on the horizon; it's a bit like shaking your presents while you wait for Christmas to arrive. Over the last few months, rumors have been growing as more and more references to a mysterious "Play Pass" in Google Play Store are unearthed, and now the rumors are starting to converge on a single prevailing theory: "Play Pass" could very well be an app store subscription that gives users access to hundreds, thousands or millions of paid apps and/or games for a flat monthly fee.

Buying a single app every now and again is fine for most folks, but buying apps or games frequently — or buying in-app bonuses every campaign — can turn users off of buying more apps or playing Android games. This would be a problem for Google, as mobile gaming is a lucrative market that the Google Play team has spent a lot of time and effort on improving the experience in for both users and developers, such as the ability to play a game before your buy or install it and the continued improvements to game progress syncing through Google Play Games.

Many apps have switched over to the subscription model on their own. For instance, I've subscribed to AutoApps from João Dias, the new owner of Tasker and a longtime Tasker plugin master. It's a $1.35/month subscription, but after three years, I've paid $48.60 for the AutoApps suite of plugins, and that's not an insignificant number. Favored Android home screen replacement Action Launcher likewise has offered monthly and yearly "Supporter" subscription options for fans to continue supporting his work, and I've probably given that another $20-$30 over my life as a themer, too.

Apps aren't cheap, and subscriptions could lead to more revenue for developers long-term.

The references to Play Pass as seen by XDA Developers had previously been more vague, but the newest mentions found by developer Kieron Quinn refer to "PLAYPASS_SUBSCRIPTION", which is pretty straightforward, especially when combined with a Google Opinion Rewards survey screenshot sent to Quinn by a friend that asked respondents how they felt about an app store that offered a subscription with **"access to hundreds of dollars worth of paid apps and games for a monthly fee."

Media and entertainment subscriptions are nothing new, just look at Google's "new" YouTube Music and YouTube Premium subscriptions. Spotify, Netflix, and Hulu are proof that a properly balances entertainment subscription can be a lucrative business, and paying a flat fee to unlock premium content in a catalog of apps and games is something Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited does with child-oriented games. Google getting in on the action with Game Pass wouldn't be unprecedented, but there are still a lot of questions and details that would have to be sorted out, with developers and within the Google Play system, before the service could be available to users like you and me.

Would you pay for a Play Pass to kiss individual app purchases and micro-transactions goodbye? Android developers, would you support your apps being included in Play Pass for a proportional percentage of revenue based on how much time users spent in your app? Do you know how much you've paid for apps up until this point? Do you think a subscription like this could increase app revenue on Android or choke it down if Play Pass users stop buying apps that aren't included?

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

27 Comments
  • Depends on how much it is.
  • Don't know... I don't mind paying for something I like and use. Some of the apps I use already have a subscription service. I honestly don't see all developers on board with this. And that makes me wonder about the quality of apps being offered under this umbrella. Look at Netflix, to me that has a - very very limited - library. Not really worth it. But I keep it for my family...
  • Really? I find Netflixs strong suit are TV shows and original content. I have found quite a few good TV shows and movies on there.
  • Limited compared to what? I find Hulu pretty limited compared to Netflix
  • Kindle Unlimited would be a good comp.
  • Not worth it considering the catalogue.
  • If it was a all access subscription to Google paid subs to services then I might consider
  • It really should also include access to YouTube movies, play movies and TV. Imagine access to premium YouTube, music, apps, games, TV shows and movies all on one fee and in one place. Google can easily smash Netflix and Hulu in this area.
  • This is what would be awesome, getting all the services plus certain paid apps or even ala Amazon 'Always Free' options (like with the always free apps on Amazon they used to offer where all micro transactions are included for free but for Google- included in the monthly cost), they could really have something I would pay for. Especially if they offered a family version like they do with Google Play Music
  • Does that mean no ads?
  • Well, apps *are* cheap, I beg to differ. I don't blindly buy them, just a little googling will tell you if a given game is your style, and I don't regret spending a few bucks for something I enjoy and keep a dev in business. Every gaming sub service I've joined, I dump it a month later. The quality doesn't keep me.
  • Would I rather pay one monthly fee to avoid paying for apps individually? No, but I'm sure Google would love it if we all did.
  • I would pay Google monthly to TOTALLY opt out of all their tracking, ad network, etc. Although I willingly use tech, it's CRIMINAL how week consumer protection laws are against big data.
  • Or, don't use a smartphone. I don't think you would like Google's asking price to not own your data... It is the only way they make money... Selling targets to ad buyers.
  • What about crapple, Facebook, even grocery shopping apps, they do exactly the same thing. No reason to single out Google for something that has become big business in the world at large let alone the tech industry.
  • I don't use Facebook, and haven't for years. I'm on no Social media. Not Twitter, or Snapchat, or Instagram, or Google+, or Reddit, or whatever. I don't participate in that. So please come with the weak "whaaa stop singling out Google" retort. Weak sauce. Additionally, there are tracking blockers built into browsers like Safari (Desktop, Mobile), Firefox (Desktop, Mobile), and Samsung Internet (Mobile). Ad Blockers also exists for browsers, and that doesn't require hacking into your phone and being a nerd. Anyone can install those, or simply toggle them on - they're even, increasingly, on by default anyways; and this is a perfect rationale for duplicative OEM apps - when those OEMs are putting the consumer first. Bravo, Samsung. This is why I will never own a Pixel. Lots of people want the Samsung Email, Calendar, Contacts, etc. app so they know Google isn't sieving everything off of their phone. This is like having your dildo delivered to the neighbor's mailbox. There is no way to easily block how Google gives themselves full permissions on your device and collects data, while making it as difficult and confusing - impossible in some ways - to control or limit it. You can only mitigate it by not using their services, uninstalling/disabling as many of their apps as possible, and turning off everything in your Google Account that you are allowed to - which can be very misleading (see recent location data kerfuffle). Simply getting a smartphone isn't equivalent to surrendering of your privacy rights, so your argument has no basis. Facebook is avoidable by not using it and turning on a tracking blocker - the end. We don't expect the phone company to log all of our calls for their business use simply because we got a land line. We don't expect the electric company to sell our data to generator companies who are targeting us based on our power usage. Do yourself a favor and get rid of the technological faux religion and corporate partisanship. These aren't Facebook phones. They're Android phones that Google strong armed their way only via Play store access requirements. Google doesn't need you to defend them. This is indefensible. Apple has a point. We need stronger, pro-consuner privacy laws. It's getting out of hand, and these conpanies are now acting like they're entitled; while extorting us with the threat of higher device prices... Because that's totally what led to the almost doubling of flagship prices over the last decade, even through a horrible global recession, right? You're crazy, guy. Get a clue.
  • Oh ffs you imbecile, go live in the woods and use two cans and a piece of string. And please don't reproduce, we gave enough morons and uneducated as it is,
  • Of course, the scheme will encourage downloads... They will do it. Much like a music subscription entices downloads, so would the rumored play pass. I'm not interested, but it makes too much sense for Google to try.
  • I'd rather pay for apps i like
  • I would sign up as soon as it becomes available if it had a nice variety of features and apps. I already pay for Netflix, Hulu, YouTube Red-Google Play Music premium, Scribd, Audible, and the tyt (The Young Turks) membership. I believe that they all pay for themselves with the use they give me and my family each month except maybe Netflix who's content has gotten horrible.
  • The great majority of the apps I download are free, and the rest are nearly all low cost, so this wouldn't be for me.
  • Yes and no. I like the idea and I could see me using it in the future. But overall I think something like YouTube Premium would suite me better. And perhaps developers to. Free app with adds, one time payment per app for no adds or a third option if a subscription and no adds (for participating apps of course). In the end it of course comes down to value. If it's too much, it's not interesting. But if it's expensive with an additional value such as 1 free app every month, it could justify the price. Will be fun to see what emerges from this.
  • I always tell people that the quality of games for mobile had improved over the years and we get high quality games more frequently than before but that's still not frequent enough to justify paying a monthly subscription. Most of the quality games comes from small devs that google will most likely not consider on this program and taking a smaller cut from their already small potential profit might turn off those devs on the first place anyway.
  • No I wouldn't. I just buy the few apps I like. I would never use enough different apps that it would be worth an ongoing subscription.
  • £5 for one off app payment or £5 per month for the same app, can't see it being popular. And will the developers get any of the payment dought it.
  • I would have to have all the details first. But, for just a quick answer... no. I like free or sale apps. I have Google Opinion Rewards just so I can save money on paid apps.
  • No. I don't use enough "apps" for this to be worth it. Furthermore, the quality of Android apps is not high. Its pretty clear developers devote 85% of their resources to iOS, and others simply slack off because they can (not on iOS, not implementable on iOS, already "famous" and earn[ed/ing] enough for their liking, etc.). Just came back to the platform adter 4 years on iOS. Night and day difference. Apps on Android have a very "Linux F/OSS" low quality feel to them. iOS apps feel extremely premium, in comparison. I have bought one App i need for training, but i don't think i will buy or subscribe to any more apps or services because the quality is low and the support is pretty bad. Had tobrefund one app from a major company because it was force closing in the background 30x a day. Same app on iOS (owned it for 4 years) is flawless. Another app the support says its "only supported on Apple Operating Systems," yet it is still in Play Store with its IAPs racking up complaints from paying customers. There needs to be a policy that if you dont update your app for 12 months, it is dropped from the play store listings for all but those who paid for it (app or iAPs) free apps, just pull them off the store and allow developer to appeal if necessary. There is so much unsupported junk topping the charts, that its almost impossible to find the decent alternatives. Not everyone has all day to spend sifting through thousands of apps on the app store across countless categories. Take out the trash. I would never subscribe to this on Android. iOS, though... that's a different matter. It would depend on what's included there.