- Google is testing a paid subscription service to its app store for Android devices, possibly taking aim at rival Apple as the iPhone maker readies its Apple Arcade service. Google's "Play Pass" gives access to hundreds of apps and games for a flat monthly fee of $4.99 after a 10-day free trial, Android Police reported.
- Screenshots show that the Play Pass promotion highlights "no purchases, no ads and in-app purchases unlocked" for a catalog of apps ranging from puzzle games to premium music. Apps selected for the service will show a Play Pass badge in some parts of the Play Store, per Android Police.
- App developers likely will get paid based on how many people use their apps, as indicated by a screenshot that says Google will track usage. The company hasn't named which developers are in the Play Pass test, although the published screenshots show icons for "Stardew Valley," "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic," "Monument Valley" and "Limbo," among others. Google confirmed to Android Police that it's currently testing the service.
While it's not clear if Google will follow through on its test of an app subscription service with a broader rollout, the pilot program indicates that the Android developer is considering how to generate additional revenue from the Google Play store. Like Apple's App Store, Google Play collects several kinds of fees, including a cut of the download price for paid apps and ongoing subscription charges.
Some app developers have criticized the fees as being too onerous, and have developed strategies to minimize what they pay to the companies that run the app stores. Google Play and Apple's App Store typically take a 30% cut on the sale of apps and in-app products, which drops to 15% after 12 months for ongoing subscriptions. Netflix, Spotify and Tinder have set up different payment methods to circumvent app store fees, such as direct downloads from a mobile website.
Epic Games, the maker of hit game "Fortnite," last year began avoiding the Google Play store by letting people download the Android version of the game directly from its website. Epic Games also is working on creating an app store that would compete more directly with Google Play. Epic Games can create an app store for Android because the mobile operating system is much more open than iOS, which Apple controls exclusively. Apple doesn't let iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch users download apps that aren't approved in its internal review process and distributed through its proprietary App Store. Apple's control of the App Store has made the company a target for antitrust investigations in the U.S. and Europe.
Google's Play Pass comes as Apple prepares to release its Arcade gaming platform this year. Google reportedly is offering a broader range of apps, not just games, in its Play Pass service — a key difference that may make Google's service more appealing than Apple Arcade. Apple hasn't announced a price for its gaming platform, which promises to give subscribers access to exclusive games that don't require extra in-app fees or advertising. Apple also has an advantage in catering to customers who are willing to spend money on apps. While Google Play produced three times as many app downloads as the App Store in Q2 2019, Apple generated 80% more consumer spending, App Annie found.