Google follows in Apple’s footsteps by cleaning up its Play Store

Google is cracking down on the apps published to the Play Store. An updated version of the company’s Developer Policy, released this week, indicates the company will now ban a wider variety of apps including cryptocurrency miners, those selling firearms and accessories, those that aim to trick children into downloading adult-themed apps, and apps built using automated tools or wizard services, or based on templates.

The latter move is especially interesting, as Apple did something similar last December that resulted in developer backlash, controversy, and even a U.S. Congressman reaching out to Apple to clarify its intent and reconsider its policy.

While it’s true that apps made with templates and wizards lead to spam apps and App Store clutter, several developers felt Apple, with its blanket ban, was wiping out small businesses from being able to participate in the App Store. The issue at hand was the fact that many smaller businesses, nonprofits and other organizations used an app templating service to create their own app. For example, templates and wizards were often used by local restaurants, schools, churches, clubs, and other small businesses that couldn’t invest in the design and development of their own apps.

As a result of the backlash, Apple revised its policy so it only impacted developers attempting to spam the App Store with multiple copies of a certain type of app. Instead of banning all templated apps, Apple’s new policy said that apps built using templates would be allowed if they were submitted by the provider of the app’s content. That is, if the local pizza place wanted its own app, it could submit its templated-built app itself.

Google clearly made a point not to make the same mistake with its own policy changes.

Its new policy clarifies the ban effects only:

Apps that are created by an automated tool, wizard service, or based on templates and submitted to Google Play by the operator of that service on behalf of other persons are not allowed. Such apps are only permissible if they are published by an individually registered developer account belonging to the user of the automated tool, not the operator of the service.

This more careful wording ensures that the policy will only address the problems with app store spam, and not with small business customers, or the app development services they use.

Another Google Play policy change bans apps that mine cryptocurrency on devices – something that could make it easier for Google Play to directly kick out apps that market themselves as something else, then mine on the sly without user’s consent. This follows a Google’s ban of mining apps from the Chrome Store this spring, due to a number of sketchy extensions that were misleading users.

Meanwhile, Google takes an almost moral position with the addition of a ban of apps that ” facilitate the sale of explosives, firearms, ammunition, or certain firearms accessories.” Specifically, Google calls out apps that sell accessories used to simulate automatic fire or convert firearms to automatic fire. This includes bump stocks, gatling triggers, drop-in auto sears, conversion kits, and magazines or belts carrying more than 30 rounds.

The change here follows the approval of several newer state laws banning bump stocks across the U.S., in the wake of an increasing number of school shootings. Gun control advocates believe that the loss of life in mass shootings could be lessened if the perpetrators didn’t have ready access to guns and accessories that allow for automatic fire.

It doesn’t seem Google has taken action on this category, however:

Other policy changes take aim at various types of misleading apps, including those adult-themed apps that appeal to children (something Google’s YouTube struggles to moderate as well, in terms of misleading video); apps that only seem to exist to serve ads (ads appear after every tap, e.g.); and apps engaging in impersonation.

Many of Google’s policy changes address areas of app spam and clutter Apple had already tackled, having announced a year ago its plans to clean up the App Store. Its cleanup was so sizable, in fact, that the App Store shrank for the first time ever in 2017. It’s now around 2+ million apps.

At this year’s WWDC, Apple again updated its guidelines to further secure the App Store, which included its own version of a crypto mining ban.

Google’s Play Store has been in need of a similar cleanup. Although Google regularly kicks out sizable numbers of malicious apps, it has always been more lenient on spammy apps than Apple. That’s allowed the store to grow to 3.5 million apps, as of December 2017. Many of those apps should now be removed, if Google chooses to retroactively enforce its new policies at scale – which remains to be seen.

(h/t to Android Police, which first saw the policy changes) 


Apple’s App Store revenue nearly double that of Google Play in first half of 2018

Apple’s App Store continues to outpace Google Play on revenue. In the first half of the year, the App Store generated nearly double the revenue of Google Play on half the downloads, according to a new report from Sensor Tower out today. In terms of dollars and cents, that’s $22.6 billion in worldwide gross app revenue on the App Store versus $11.8 billion for Google Play – or, 1.9 times more spent on the App Store compared with what was spent on Google Play.

This trend is not new. Apple’s iOS store has consistently generated more revenue than its Android counterpart for years due to a number of factors – including the fact that Android users historically have spent less on apps than iOS users, as well as the fact that there are other Android app stores consumer can shop – like the Amazon Appstore or Samsung Store, for example. In addition, Google Play is not available in China, but Apple’s App Store is.

Last year, consumer spending on the App Store reached $38.5 billion, again nearly double that of Google Play’s $20.1 billion.

As the new figures for the first half of 2018 indicate, consumer spending is up this year.

Sensor Tower estimates it has increased by 26.8 percent on iOS compared with the same period in 2017, and it’s up by 29.7 percent on Google Play.

The growth in spending can be partly attributed to subscription apps like Netflix, Tencent Video, and even Tinder, as has been previously reported.

Subscription-based apps are big businesses these days, having helped to boost app revenue in 2017 by 77 percent to reach $781 million, according to an earlier study. Netflix was also 2017’s top non-game app by revenue, and recently became ranked as the top (non-game) app of all-time by worldwide consumer spend, according to App Annie’s App Store retrospective.

Many of the other all-time top apps following Netflix were also subscription-based, including Spotify (#2), Pandora (#3), Tencent Video (#4), Tinder (#5), and HBO NOW (#8), for example.

And Netflix is again the top non-game app by consumer spending in the first half of 2018, notes Sensor Tower.

Game spending, however, continues to account for a huge chunk of revenue.

Consumer spending on games grew 19.1 percent in the first half of 2018 to $26.6 billion across both stores, representing roughly 78 percent of the total spent ($16.3 billion on the App Store and $10.3 billion on Google Play). Honor of Kings from Tencent, Monster Strike from Mixi, and Fate/Grand Order from Sony Aniplex were the top grossing games across both stores.

App downloads were also up in the first half of the year, if by a smaller percentage.

Worldwide first-time app installs grew to 51 billion in 1H18, or up 11.3 percent compared with the same time last year, when downloads were then 45.8 billion across the two app stores.

Facebook led the way on this front with WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook and Instagram as the top four apps across both the App Store and Google Play combined. The most downloaded games were PUBG Mobile from Tencent, Helix Jump from Voodoo, and Subway Surfers from Kiloo.

Google Play app downloads were up a bit more (13.1 percent vs iOS’s 10.6 percent) year-over-year due to Android’s reach in developing markets, reaching 36 billion. That’s around 2.4 times the App Store’s 15 billion.

Despite this, Apple’s platform still earned more than double the revenue with fewer than half the downloads, which is remarkable. And it can’t all be chalked up to China. (The country contributed about 31.7 percent of the App Store revenue last quarter, or $7.1 billion, to give you an idea.)

Sensor Tower tells TechCrunch that even if China was removed from the picture, the App Store would have generated $15.4 billion gross revenue for first half of 2018, which is still about 30 percent higher than Google Play’s $11.8 billion.