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The Google Play Store Ruling Is Bad News for Longtime Android Phone Users

Last week, Epic won a years-long suit against Google for anti-competitive practices within the Play Store. We were all left wondering: what would happen to Android’s app store moving forward?

Today, Google laid out what’s happening in its Keyword blog, and it’s all in time for the holiday when we can finally slow down and contemplate how much will change about the Android experience due to this ruling.

Some of the new proposed policies are definitely more developer-friendly and favor their ability to make money on Google’s Android platform. But a handful of concerning policies make me wonder if we’re dawning on an era where Android will face regression. The changes that are coming could hamper the Android user experience.

What’s happening to Google’s Play Store?

Google has to pay $700 Million in fines, which The Verge points out is less than what it makes in a month of Play Store earnings. Then, it has to make changes to its Play Store policies. Some of those changes could include:

  • The ability for manufacturers to provide an alternative app store alongside the Play Store on new devices
  • A new sideloading interface, where you’re only facing one alert box instead of two, warning you about the dangers of installing unverified third-party software
  • Developers will be able to offer another billing option alongside Google Play, so they won’t have to fork over Play Store fees

A majority of the terms are only in place for a set time. For instance, third-party app store installations will be allowed for seven years, while the streamlined sideloading abilities will be in place for at least five years.

Noted code sleuth Mishaal Rahman published an easy-to-follow breakdown of how exactly Android’s interface will handle sideloading apps. You’ll no longer have to dig into the settings panel to toggle on the ability to install apps from other sources, though I also didn’t think it was a big deal to do this in the first place. If anything, the toggle made me feel like I was engaging in something truly indulgent, and that appealed to my desire to pretend I’m Angelina Jolie’s character in Hackers.

There are other stipulations in the ruling that aren’t especially user-friendly. For example, Google has to allow developers to contact users outside of apps with whatever means they can grab data. I’m foreseeing even more promotional spam in my inbox, clogging up the stuff that matters. Developers don’t have to hide pricing, either, so they can take up space to tell you how much money you’ll save if you buy in-app coins through their means versus through Google’s. This could clog up text space in an app already teeming with advertising.

Developers can route you elsewhere to get the full version of an app. Google will not require apps to update on the Android platform at the same time they publish elsewhere, like in the third-party app stores. That could mean returning to practice when default Android users wait for several versions for feature parity. An app developer could exploit this to ensure you stay within the virtual ecosystem they set up. The ruling also lets third-party app stores update Android apps in the background without your consent, which is already a common annoyance for Android users.

One of the new Play Store rules is reminiscent of the olden days when Android smartphones had the worst bloatware. They still do in some cases, especially if you buy from the low-end spectrum of offerings since that’s how carriers claim they can cut your costs. But the bloat could worsen again, as Google can’t stop OEMs from preloading what they like for the next four years.

Epic is not happy about the ruling either, by the way. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said the settlement is an “injustice to all Android users and developers.” Rather than eliminating the 30% app store fee to Google, the company says it’s been swapped out for “26% of junk fees.”

In the end, we’re sort of back where we started. Though the Play Store has been opened to allow developers to make money in more ways than one, it comes at the expense of what Google presented as pro-consumer practices to keep bad actors from pushing Android users away to Apple’s iOS. Nothing is set in stone until at least Feb. 8, 2024, when the judge in the case will settle on the actual terms.

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