Google’s New Policies: Good for Users, Great for Android Developers and the Ecosystem
By: Hillel Fuld (@hilzfuld)
While the 'iOS vs Android' debate is still hot after all these years, the facts on the ground illustrate a very clear picture of the differences between the two ecosystems. In essence and as many people have pointed out over the years, it is the Mac vs PC war all over again. The results were predetermined. Android would achieve wider distribution with tens of different manufacturers embracing the platform. iOS would lose the market to Android but retain a very loyal and active user-base.
iOS users surf the web more than Android users. iOS developers make more money than Android developers. The iOS App Store has tighter guidelines than Google Play and the apps increase in quality accordingly. All this was obvious from the get-go. What wasn't obvious was Google's latest move.
Google sent an email to all its third party developers this week explaining that the company is updating its Google Play Developer Program Policies. Remember how Android is all about openness and how anyone can do anything to your device? Yea, well it turns out, that is not always the best thing for anyone.
You can read the entire list of changes here, but let me break it down for you.
First of all, the entire policy now applies not only to an app published but also to the name of the developer, any content the app links to, or any other type of user generated content displayed or linked to from an app. There are the obvious bans such as adult material, violence or bullying, as well as hate speech. So far, so good.
Here is where Google made some serious changes to its rule book, changes that will have a very serious effect on dozens of companies across the Android universe. You know how some Android apps monetize by serving you ads in the notification bar? Surely you have seen this before. Yep, no longer. Banned.
But wait, it gets better. Any app downloaded from Google Play can no longer change anything about the device outside of the app. The user can explicitly allow this but without the user consent, it is no longer allowed. What does this new rule include? The presentation of apps, widgets, or settings on the device. if the user does allow this behavior, the app must make it very clear that it was responsible for this change and that the user can reverse it easily by deleting the app.
Apps can no longer install shortcuts or bookmarks on the user's home screen or browser. That includes a search bar or anything else apps use to monetize outside of the app.
Oh, you thought that was it? Apps can no longer serve ads via push notifications. Woah, HUGE shift in policy!!
Other new rules in the policy change include the ban of apps that encourage users to remove other apps (battery usage etc), the removal of apps that spam including negative content, "irrelevant, misleading, or excessive keywords in apps descriptions, titles, or metadata.", as well as developers who post fake reviews on competitors' apps. Oh and apps that send SMS, email, or other messages on behalf of users? Yea, they are gone too!
Nope, that's not it. You know how there are many payment solutions for in-app purchases? Yep, now "Developers offering virtual goods or currencies within a game downloaded from Google Play must use Google Play's in-app billing service as the method of payment." Ouch.
There are many MANY more changes in the policy but here is one more interesting one. "Ads must not simulate or impersonate the user interface of any app, or notification and warning elements of an operating system."
So what does all this mean? It means that Google understands that while open is great, at the end of the day, users would rather have a superior experience both in terms of Google Play as a whole, and apps behavior in particular. Once these new rules come into effect (30 days before Google starts removing apps), we can expect to see an increase in Android app engagement. It might not happen overight but when users are afraid to tap something in an app, out of fear of it actually being an ad for pornographic material, that doesn't do wonders for user engagement.
Once these new rules are live, the experience as a whole will increase accordingly, as will the engagement on the platform, and the resulting Android app developer revenue, which very much depends on user engagement.
That is what is called a Win Win. Win.