Google says it will make Android 12 friendlier to alternative app stores

Fortnite Installation on Samsung
Fortnite Installation on Samsung (Image credit: Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Google will begin enforcing Google Play Billing on all in-app purchases starting September 2021.
  • It will also make Android 12 a bit friendlier to third-party alternative app stores like the Epic Games Store.
  • Google points out that it regularly promotes competitors' software and that it supports apps like Xbox Game Pass in contrast to Apple.

Google has confirmed a story first broke by Bloomberg last week saying that by September 2021, all app developers and publishers selling digital goods through the Play Store will be required to use Google's own billing system.

The company says this does not the vast majority of existing developers, 97% of which don't sell digital goods. Of the 3% that do sell digital goods through their apps, 97% are already in compliance. Google is giving that small number of developers an additional year grace period to get those apps in line with the company's newly-clarified Play Store billing guidelines.

Importantly, this clarification gets to the heart of what separates the Play Store from other app stores on Android: the Play Store is fast, safe, and easy to use, with plenty of tools at developers' disposal for administration, billing, security, and privacy. But in return, Google asks for a 30% cut.

But Google also acknowledges that due to Android's open nature, people can and will seek out alternative app stores, from the Epic Games Store to F-Droid. That stands in contrast to iOS, where Apple has expressly forbidden third-party app stores at all.

Google says that starting with Android 12, it will make it easier for third-party app stores to co-exist with the Google Play Store.

In response to that feedback, we will be making changes in Android 12 (next year's Android release) to 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. We are designing all this now and look forward to sharing more in the future!

While it's not clear what those changes will look like, right now alternative app stores are subject to additional security checks and pop-up notifications that may turn off some less experienced Android users. This was one of the core tenets of Epic's argument against Google after it unliterally implemented first-party billing in Fortnite last month, kicking off a series of events that led to a lawsuit and the expulsion of Fortnite from the Play Store.

In its blog post, Google also made passing jabs at Apple, claiming that Google often promotes its competitors' apps in the Play Store, and that services like Xbox Game Pass are not only allowed but encouraged in the Play Store, a stark contrast to Apple's App Store.

Our policies apply equally to all apps distributed on Google Play, including Google's own apps. We use the same standards to decide which apps to promote on Google Play, whether they're third-party apps or our own apps. In fact, we regularly promote apps by Google's competitors in our Editors Choice picks when they provide a great user experience. Similarly, our algorithms rank third-party apps and games using the same criteria as for ranking Google's own apps.Developers are coming up with cool things all the time. Using their feedback, we are always trying to adjust our approach to ensure that we continue to help enable new forms of innovation. For example, recent innovations in game streaming have generated new game experiences that are available on Google Play, including Microsoft's recent launch of Xbox cloud gaming in the Xbox Game Pass​ Android app.

Daniel Bader

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central.