Google Now Playing At Apple’s Game For In-App Payments? No, Just Business As Usual, Says Google

Android has become the world’s best-selling smartphone OS, but with the platform made free to OEMs, it’s perhaps natural for observers to jump on every story that looks like it points to Google suddenly trying to make money out of it in ways that it hasn’t before.

The latest chapter in that story comes from the newsdesk of Reuters, which last night published an article claiming that developers have been getting heat from Google to stop using third-party payment services from the likes of PayPal, Zong (also a part of PayPal) and Boku, and if they don’t — they would get ejected from Google’s app store, formerly known as the Android Market and now being marketed as Google Play. One small problem, though: Google says that nothing has changed in its policy and that the story is a non-starter.

That’s not entirely accurate; a few things have changed: Google rebranded its in-app billing service when it changed the name of the Android Market to Google Play earlier this week. It’s now called “Google Play In-app Billing.” And the company is making a concerted effort to drive more business through that app store.

Reuters’ story suggests that “Google is using its powerful position in the mobile apps market to promote an in-house offering,” and cites an incident from August 2011, when a developer was sent a note from Google ordering it to switch to Google’s own payment services, or else get rejected from the Android Market (now known as Google Play).

The rub is that Google’s service takes a 30 percent cut to Google on all transactions — same as Apple’s in-app payment service — but that some third-party payment services take less.

A Google spokesperson, however, tells us that in fact Google has had the same policies in place for in-app payments — requiring developers to use Google’s own service — since they were launched last March.

The exceptions to these, he notes, have been the same as before: if it’s a good that is not consumed within the app store — for example, a new clock from Amazon — then Google does not require developers to implement in-app billing to pay for it. But when it comes to content for the app itself, that’s when Google’s own billing kicks in.

“If [a developer] had been in breach of that, and we had only just noticed, that’s when we would send out a letter,” he said, explaining the letter that was sent out to a developer in August.

But while Google may not be changing its policies on how in-app payments are supposed to be used by Android developers, one area that does seem to be evolving is Google’s focus on making this into a more-used feature.

Given that the vast majority of app downloads are for free apps, there is always

The company last week expanded the number of currencies that it accepts for in-app payments — there are now eight: U.S. and Canadian Dollars, Euros, Pounds, Yen, and Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Krone. That gives developers who implement the service a wider market for distribution.

And in another incentive specifically for publishers, it looks like it is upgrading One Pass, the other in-app billing service it launched last year.

Unlike the in-app payments in Play, One Pass was Google’s specific offering for publishers, a route to selling editions and subscriptions via the Android platform.

Perhaps in a push to lure more publishers to Google’s own newsstand, Google takes only a 10 percent commission for One Pass transactions. Very little has been heard about One Pass since it launched a year ago, although the Google spokesperson noted that it’s in the process of getting upgraded “in response to publishers’ needs.” (We hope to find out more about what that means soon.)