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GPlay Billing System Deadline Extended; Will Indian Apps Adopt it?

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After much thought around its policy regarding the Play Billing system, a concept that remains to be a controversy among Indian app developers, the tech giant has decided to extend the deadline to October next year.

Meanwhile, India’s digital think tank for startups, Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF) has already expressed its agreement towards the extension, for it believes the decision would serve a temporary relief to developers while the main issues to be solved still remain a far cry. In the words of Sijo Kuruvilla George, Executive Director, ADIF, “the reality is that app owners have been in a very tough spot as they are unsure if they should unwillingly comply with Google’s new policies and be hopeful of a CCI’s intervention on the interim relief petition for maintaining the status quo. Google’s deadline extension certainly gives them more time but doesn’t take away their uncertainty”.

In the past, Google stated that the service fee only applies to developers who sell digital material through the Play Store, which affects about three percent of the platform's developers. Furthermore, Google claims that the service fee helps it fund "ongoing investments across Android and Google Play, allowing for a variety of distribution, development, and security services”.

Google has already announced service charge reductions for various developer groups. However, now it plans on reducing its service fee to 15 percent for the first $1 million in revenue, whereas for those who earn more than the amount, the service fee would be 30 percent and this was found distasteful among Indian app developers. Hence, it’s key to look at how it would impact app developers if they were to adopt the system.

It is extremely clear that there is a need for another store in the market. Developers don’t have a choice… they need more options, reasons Rakesh Deshmukh, CEO Co-founder, Indus App Bazaar

Fear Over Unsustainable Business
The problem for app developers is that they are bound by both Google and Apple's policies, which is a concept that is being contested around the world. In fact, earlier this year, South Korea approved legislation prohibiting Google and Apple from compelling app developers to adopt their in-app payment systems. The 'anti-Google' bill in South Korea, in particular, is being viewed as a significant precedent.

The 30 percent commission, as several app developers in India have previously stated, would make the company unsustainable for many of them. Developers have expressed their dissatisfaction with both Apple and Google in this regard. Both companies levy a 15-30 percent commission on in-app sales, subscriptions, and other transactions, which developers are no longer prepared to pay. While Apple and Google have recently made some compromises, developers maintain that the system must be abandoned.

Both require apps to use just their certified billing systems in order to ensure that they do not circumvent the commission. Apps that do not follow the rules are either blocked or withdrawn from the App Store or Play Store. Apple is also facing an anti-competitive lawsuit in India, brought by the Rajasthan-based NGO 'Together We Fight Society.'

Therefore, Indian app developers are now seeking hope from South Korea’s ‘anti-Google’ bill.

Probable Hope from ‘anti-Google’ Bill
As regulators investigate Apple and Google for antitrust concerns, some Indian app developers and startups are becoming more optimistic about similar measures in the nation. Last week's passage of a significant South Korean law, called the ‘anti-Google bill’, is being hailed as a significant first step.

“The South Korean legislation is a welcome development since it sets the precedent of law, which can be a guiding point for Indian regulators and for other countries and markets as well”, says George.

The Korean law offers a lot of promise to Indian developers since it sets a strong precedent for India's antitrust authority, the Competition Commission of India (CCI).

“CCI had convened a meeting to understand the issue better. It has also been doing independent studies to look at what is the right approach,” George explained. While CCI cannot enact legislation, George believes that reprimanding Apple or Google and calling out their anti-competitive practices would go a long way.

He pointed out that, “India is a more price-sensitive market and most Indian companies/app developers operate on thinner margins making it a lot more difficult to navigate the 30 per cent tax. The payment cycles further exacerbate the issue by adding to cash flow pressures”.

Meanwhile, in response to the South Korean rule, Google stated that its business model and payment method help to keep Android free. Word on the street is that the tech giant is pondering on how to comply with the law while retaining a paradigm that supports a high-quality operating system and app store.

But the problem for Indian app developers is not merely about the payments, which affect only a small percentage of apps on both platforms. The bigger issue is distribution, and being bound by restrictions from both Google and Apple.

George reasons out the concern by explaining, “most of the Indian app developers have been at the receiving end of arbitrary and highhanded enforcement of policies and anti-competitive practices of Apple and Google app market monopolies. In the absence of enabling legislation, our app developers will always find it difficult to even pick up grievance redressal, forget challenging anti-competitive practices”.

Need for Another Store?
Other platforms, such as Indus OS, an alternative app store with over 400,000 developers, share this viewpoint. While Deshmukh admits that CCI cannot make legislation because it is simply a regulator, he believes it would be advantageous if the anti-trust agency identified these behaviours as monopolistic.

“It is extremely clear that there is a need for another store in the market. Developers don’t have a choice… they need more options,” reasons Rakesh Deshmukh, CEO Co-founder, Indus App Bazaar.

Deshmukh also points out that Google prohibits third-party app stores on its platform, which means Indus OS cannot be made available for download. Users should have the flexibility to download the app or app store of their choice, according to him. He believes it should be as simple as downloading an app on a computer.

While both Apple and Google claim that this limitation is necessary for customer safety and security, it should be noted that on laptops, users can download any software they want regardless of whether it is available in the app store. The Chrome browser, for example, is not available in the Mac App Store, but it can be downloaded and installed on a MacBook.

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