Google today announced it’s expanding its user choice billing pilot, which allows Android app developers to use other payment systems besides Google’s own. The program will now become available to new markets, including the U.S., Brazil and South Africa, and Bumble will now join Spotify as one of the pilot testers. Google additionally announced Spotify will now begin rolling out its implementation of the program starting this week.
The company first announced its intention to launch a third-party billing option back in March of this year, with Spotify as the initial tester.
Since then, the program has steadily expanded. Last month, for example, Google invited other non-game developers to apply for the user choice billing program in select markets, including India, Australia, Indonesia, Japan and the European Economic Area (EEA). The company also introduced a similar policy for developers in the EEA region in July, but the new guidelines raised the commission discount from 3% to 4% for developers who opted in. With today’s expansion, user choice billing will be made available to 35 countries worldwide.
Google says it’s been working with Spotify to help develop the experience and now the streaming music service will begin to put the new features into action in supported markets. The experience could still change over time, Google warned, as this is still the early days of the pilot test.
In addition, Bumble has now joined Google to test user choice billing in its own app, with plans to roll out the options to users in select countries in the coming months.
Developers interested in adopting user choice billing have to follow certain UX guidelines set by Google that detail how to implement the feature in their apps. These guidelines currently require developers to display an information screen and a separate billing choice screen. The information screen only has to be shown to each user the first time they initiate a purchase, but the billing choice screen must be shown before every purchase, the rules state. There are other requirements around when and how to display the screens and how the user interface should appear.
With the launch, Spotify users on Android will see a new user interface that allows them to choose how they want to pay for their Spotify subscription (see image below). For the first time, the two options — Google Play billing and Spotify billing — will appear side-by-side. If the user selects Google Play billing, they’ll be transitioned to the usual experience and will be able to track their subscription in the Google Play Store’s Subscription Center. If the user selects Spotify billing, they’ll then continue within Spotify’s own checkout process and user experience.
This test will become available in a few markets at first, then expand to others over the coming weeks, Spotify says.
“Spotify has been publicly advocating for platform fairness and expanded payment options for years. We believe that fair and open platforms enable better, frictionless consumer experiences that also empower developers to imagine, innovate, and thrive,” a Spotify blog post stated.
While the general terms offer a 4% reduction in commissions paid to Google when user choice billing is used, Spotify wouldn’t comment on its confidential deal with Google, but notes it meets the company’s standards of fairness. It’s unclear if the streamer has been offered more favorable terms as an early adopter.
These changes follow a period when the major app stores from Apple and Google have been under pressure from lawmakers and regulators in global markets to open up their app ecosystems. This includes pressure to give developers the ability to use third-party payment systems and allow developers to inform customers of other ways to pay, among other things.
In addition, some developers have taken to suing the app giants directly. In the U.S., for instance, Fortnite maker Epic Games sued both Apple and Google for their alleged monopolistic practices due to their restrictions around in-app payments and for the right to distribute apps and games directly to end users outside the official app stores. Dating app giant Match is suing Google as well. (Which makes Google’s choice to invite Bumble into the program that much more interesting!)
Other companies have been lobbying lawmakers for more app store openness, too, through organizations like the Coalition for App Fairness, which includes big-name developers like Epic Games, Spotify, Tile and others, including indie developers.
Google and Apple are also under investigation in various markets, with the Justice Department in the early stages of filing an antitrust suit against Apple and EU antitrust officials investigating the Play Store.
In a blog post, Google says the goal of its pilot is to “understand complexities involved in supporting user choice billing for developers and users in countries across the world while maintaining a safe and positive user experience.” The company has yet to say when it expects the pilot test to wrap.