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Google Play no longer is the Wild West, and that's good for developers and users

There have been some pretty clear battle lines drawn within Android Central over the years, even if the two sides aren't readily apparent publicly. For some time I've advocated that Google need some sort of screening process for apps submitted to Google Play. There's just too much junk, too many ripoffs and too many ways for consumers to get burned by bad apps.

On the other side are those of us who believe that the entire Android ecosystem should be as open as possible, and that includes Google Play. Publish at will.

We're both right, in our own ways. But today, as Google's announced it's pre-screening new submissions as well as updates, the Google Play Store is no longer the Wild West. And that's in no uncertain terms good for users, and good for developers.

From Google's blog post announcing the changes:

Several months ago, we began reviewing apps before they are published on Google Play to better protect the community and improve the app catalog. This new process involves a team of experts who are responsible for identifying violations of our developer policies earlier in the app lifecycle. We value the rapid innovation and iteration that is unique to Google Play, and will continue to help developers get their products to market within a matter of hours after submission, rather than days or weeks. In fact, there has been no noticeable change for developers during the rollout.

Content rating

The new content rating for the Android Central App (opens in new tab). Occasionally we have a dirty mouth.

There are gray areas, to be sure, and often the arguments we have over this are more intellectual than practical. None of us wants to see, say, pro-Nazi apps in Google Play. But there's an argument to be made that if Android is truly "open" — and I still contend that word is simply twisted to mean whatever someone wants it to at the time — then you have to take the bad with the good. On the other hand, Google Play is Google's app store. It's not the Android Open Source Project's app store. Google's free to do whatever it wants with it.

Google's shift here is twofold. First, it's going to review apps before publishing them. That better protects the user — yes, even if we don't all need protecting from content or just poor quality — and it protects the developer by being proactive instead of merely swinging a sledgehammer later. But more than that is it's a major improvement in the communication between Google Play and the developers. If a new app is rejected, the developer will get a notice at the top of the Developer Console with more information. If an app update is rejected, the previous version will remain available until changes are made and a new app submitted — again, with a notice atop the developer console.

So long as Google sticks to its word here, a little pre-release screening is likely to be a good thing for us all.

That doesn't mean this will be perfect, and it doesn't mean I don't have concerns. Google doesn't exactly have the best track record when it comes to this sort of thing — the horror stories of the automated YouTube takedown process comes to mind, and you don't have so search far to find recent examples of vague app rejection notes. (I've yet to see these new notices in the Developer Console, and I hope I never have to.) But we've all heard and read the horror stories from developers whose published apps have been unceremoniously removed from Google Play for some reason that might not have been entirely clear, and communication with the Google Play keepers was, to put it mildly, lacking. Any change in communication has to be for the better at this point. Apps and videos are very different things, however, and my glass is very much half-full for now.

There's also the question of speed with these new reviews. Apple's app review process is notoriously, painfully slow. (That's pronounced "methodical.") So slow, in fact, that developers may be hesitant to submit an update for fear that introducing even a small bug will require another lengthy review process just to push out a fix. Google's made a point to say that it "will continue to help developers get their products to market within a matter of hours after submission." Faster is always better. But I'd wager (have have experienced) that a even a little extra time with Google's new screening is still far faster than any of the other app stores. (For what it's worth, Amazon's approval process the last time we went through it spanned several days, and Samsung's was a bit longer than that — but it also returned actual screenshots and even video of what it wanted fixed.) And, Google says in its blog post publicly announcing the changes, "there has been no noticeable change for developers during the rollout."

Chances are any griping about Google Play growing up a bit is going to be short-lived. Ultimately, earlier feedback for developers and better adherence to the Developer Distribution Agreement (opens in new tab) and Developer Content Policy (opens in new tab) should be a good thing.

  • They should add: "Needs an update" ;)
  • I think it should just fall off if not updated in 18 months Posted by my soon to be retired Note 3
  • If an app does one thing, and already does it well, why would it need an update? Like a calculator app, or a flashlight app for example. I'd never want to force an app to update just because it's been a while; remember, 'If it ain't broke..."
  • Oddly, some apps work fine at what they do, but many people still complain "it hasn't been updated in a long time"..which, like you mention...makes no sense, at least makes no sense to me.
  • +1 Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't know... even a simple UI refresh away from Gingerbread would be nice. (ActiveDir Manager for example)
  • So perfect.
  • What about "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" Kind of a Golden Rule, seldom followed
  • I wouldn't mind taking 1 day for review process either. i want no spamy apps on Play
  • Now Google needs to address the permissions within the apps. Pandora actually wants permission to look at your calendar. This is an example of abuse of the system. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Thanks just blocked Pandora calendar permission. Oddly it says it's never been used by the app, I wonder why they added it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Its actually not as bad as you think and it is user initiated
  • It doesn't want permission. It has permission and is telling you as such. And this is why. You don't have to like why it's doing that, but I don't think I'd call it an abuse. Don't like it? Don't install it.
  • But this requires reading, people can't be bother by it. /s
  • Looks more like an example is FUD Posted from my Droid Turbo, Kelly and Ozone
  • Always a good thing to help the end users. Can't stand the complaints about Android losing "openness " and other non sense.
    We need apps to not crash and mess with our phones and equally important not to infect them with malware.
    This had to be done long ago, but better late then never. via AC App on VZW Moto X DE/N7
  • I agree, I wish they did this long time ago. I'm on both Apple and Google platforms, when it comes to banking apps I always use IOS apps for safety reasons. Now that they would start screening I can use Google apps as well for critical stuff.
  • This is a good thing.
  • People are comparing this to Apple, but it's not the same. The only way to get Apple apps without jailbreaking your phone is from the Apple store. At least with Android (for the foreseeable future, anyway), you can download .apks on the internet or even download whole other app stores to put on your phone. Devs don't HAVE to wait for Google to approve the app before they are able to distribute it from their own website or other place. You have choice, and that's the big difference.
  • They need to review the shit out of Facebook.. (sorry for my mildly offensive language) Lol Posted via Android Central App on The Nexus 5
  • Why? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Because he can't read the reason Facebook needs it's plethora of permissions. You know, the one that was posted here some months ago. The one Facebook itself posted. I think the third time might be the charm. "I'm da Blur boys!" - Me with 1200 ping. Fiber in Nashville? Save me based Google.
  • Hey maybe the next time BBC releases an update to Race the Stig it will actually work! Posted from my Nexus 5 via Android Central App
  • As a Android developer, I hope the review times stay as low as they promise (a few hours). We make apps for events, and a client asking to change something a few days before the event almost makes my iOS-developing colleague cry. 5-10 day review times are not out of the ordinary there.
  • Can't believe Google took so long to start doing this. Hopefully we'll start seeing less spam and crapps on Google Play.
  • Review games like The Sims. Also, the many apps still using tricky ways of getting their ads clicked.
  • Yup, was just playing one last night that had a little x in the corner of the ad and when I clicked the x the ad opened. I'm not an ad hater, but that's some bullshit.
  • The "unknown sources" check box ensures those who want to live in the wild west still can. Play Store app reviews should have been happening all along.
  • I hope the people making the decisions think just like I do, and remove all the apps I think suck.
  • YUP, You are right, I can't agree more. Once some bad apps installed in my phone, I always delete them all. HA HA...
  • This was one of the many reasons I have not bought an android phone yet. This combined with the bigger built in storage options on the s6, and hopefully better low light photos will mybe get me to dump my iPhone 6.
  • As long as it's only about the safety and quality of the app and not about the content.
  • Goggles problem is there is no one to talk to. An app of mine was removed, and all I got was the vague IP violation notice that sent me to the terms of use. There is no one to contact. My app was available for two years before they decided to remove it. I'm done with the play store. Apple approved my app and it thriving on the app store for 2 years. Sorry rant over. lol this article opened up old wounds. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I'm not so sure about this. I feel this is just Google getting involved in another key aspect of Android. Yes it will be for security and the end users will benefit from this. But remember. Last time Google got involved with Android, we lost significant access to microSD functionality when KitKat was introduced, "for security reasons." They also imposed the mandatory use of google+ for doing anything in YouTube "so it becomes easier for everybody" . I'm not to keen about this... Posted via the Android Central App
  • As long as this is only used to block suspicious or misbehaving apps and not apps that might compete with Google then this is a good thing. Problem with Apple is that they have used their power to remove apps they don't like regardless of whether users want them or not. On the flipside, agree with Spun2u that Google need to provide a proper communication path for devs (and users for that matter) if they want to enforce app denials/takedowns
  • Android (and the related Google ecosystem) never was as open as people purported (or wished) it to be. It's nice to see Google taking a stronger stance on security and quality in the app store.
  • Hey AC,how about asking Google if they intend to start reviewing zombie apps that especially people are complaining about in playstore reviews. Those developers that have abandoned their apps,and no longer respond to email from users need to be removed. Or let us start reporting the non-reponding developers. Is that not a violation of the rules? It seems that some apps were made by tech students as a school project,and then left to clutter up playstore. I mean,really,do we need have hundreds and hundreds of the same apps. Most of which stopped functioning a long time ago? Don't developers have to at least check in with Google periodically? Maybe one of the AC staff could get someone from Google and interview them like you did for the security thing awhile back? Posted via the Android Central App, HTC Evo 4g LTE ,on Sprint
  • This is the issue i see with these new os. All apps have to be reviewed by some one. Seems like windows and linux are the only os that are open about what you can program on them. Your imagination and the os limits are the limits but no one has to review your program if you qant to publish it. This clearly smells like monopoly with google and apple controlling whats allowed
  • All the time I invested in Google Play, and now I can't access my library. With no notice. How is this better for "users"? Goddamned shill of a writer. I get that Google wants to monetize this. They aren't making enough money, obviously. But no heads-up? I am forever going to avoid their services from here on out. There are other email services, Google. Other search engines too.