New Google Play Store Policies

I have been reading around various websites after some of google’s recent announcements on the play developer console. A lot of devs are feeling betrayed and hurt, and many of them are foreseeing problems which is justified.

Android has long been a hobbyist OS due to the hackable nature of the Nexus One and the open-source OS. It has a huge developer following but most of them are part-time or hobbyist rather than professional developers. Ok, it is hard to tell that, but from looking at the quality of many apps on the store, talking to a large number of devs and following indie websites, a lot of them start off as hobbyist and take the plunge, some of them never do. The big software houses are always there on every platform, and we are not really concerned about them as they know how to take care of themselves with their fancy accountants and lawyers.

The Google developer console is not bad. Overall they did a good job when they ported over to the new system. There are a couple of missing features here and there. There are also sometimes feature graphics etc that are needed but occassionally the requirements change as the play store layout changes.

App Pricing and Developer Revenue

I want to start with some comments on pricing applications.

Each developer pays Google a one time fee of $25, which is not a lot. In return google is hosting our apps, providing a front-end distribution mechanism to the users. There are no adverts on the play store. Google makes nothing on free apps (except if they use adverts but that is an unlinked stream).

On paid apps, Google takes 30%. So every £1, Google will take 30p. Factor in UK VAT at 20%, I am not sure whether it is 20% of £1 or 20% of 70p, either way a developer will be making around 50p – 60p for every £1 that a customer pays.

Assuming a developer works at £20/hour (which is fairly low), he would need 40 customers to buy the app to pay for 1 hour of his work. If you are thinking of an ongoing stream where a developer is producing apps and getting paid consistently at this rate you are looking for 300 new customers a day. Everyone knows this is an extreme rarity on the play store.

New Support Policy

So Google is now asking developers to respond to users within 3 days. There are several points to make here:

  • Does Google itself follow this rule and responds to developers within 3 days? Nope. In fact your chances of getting a reply from Google support (even in the case of a MAJOR issue like app bans etc) is same as winning the lottery.
  • Developers with a huge user base will struggle with this. Receiving lets say 40 emails a day, even spending 5 minutes reading each email means they will spend 3 hours a day just doing customer support!!! No development, no coding, no income!
  • Developers with a small user base will also struggle. After all they dont get an email everyday and often check maybe once every few days, they may even miss the 3 day deadline.
  • Is it worth the developers time? For earning an income of 50p, how much time spend on customer support is justified? Maybe initially it makes sense, but over time, it is less productive work. Per customer, the developer is not being paid enough to perform proactive customer support.

While these issues may seem to pertain only to indie devs and one-man-bands this is not true. Software houses will also have to dedicate more time and resources to customer support if they previously didnt.

New Address Policy

Google now requires all apps that are paid or offer In App purchases to have a physical address listed. From the developer console:

If you have paid apps or apps with in-app purchases, it’s mandatory to provide a physical address where you can be contacted, as you are the seller of that content, to comply with consumer protection laws. If you don’t provide a physical address on your account, it may result in your apps being removed from the Play Store.

The problems I see with this are:

  • No way to verify the physical address
  • Invasion of privacy for indie developers who do not own a business address.
  • Security risk for indie developers (who do not own a business address) as address verification is used by banks, utility companies, web hosts providers etc. There are many recent examples of social engineering attacks using this kind of information.
  • For developers who do not see this as a source of business income but just enough to feed their hobby (these are the explorer developers who have done some great work) from donations and so on, this is very discouraging
  • The address is displayed on paid apps, even to people who have NOT purchased the app
  • How will it help the customer to have a physical address?

I dont see any advantage to this except for the following of the law. That said, ofcourse Google reserve the right to do how they want in the Play store.

If this is to block malicious apps, this is easily workaroundable by providing a fake address, but it will affect the honest developers more. (If you read some reviews on the Play store you would realize how passionate and crazy some users can get!)

As a side note, it seems that that this can affect the xda devs like kernel, root and rom developers where local guys are going to hang out at the devs home, asking them to fix their bricked devices! Hope they bring pizza 😉

New VAT Policy

This is a welcome addition as most developers barely had the time to deal with VAT. Normally VAT is deducted at the point of purchase (atleast in the UK) so this makes a lot of sense.

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