Predictions of Play Store Fallout

The recent changes to the Play Store terms of service, requiring physical addresses and imposing a service-level agreement (SLA) on support questions are not terribly surprising moves. Google is basically trying to get developers of paid/in-app purchasing (IAP) apps to “raise their game” and provide better support to buyers.

That being said, I’m not sure that Google thought this all the way through. This has the whole “frog/boiling water” trope written all over it: while developers had been putting up with more and more hassle from Google, this particular change appears to be enough to get some developers to jump.

Tactically, the Play Store might well shrink in size over the next 60 days, as developers pull apps from the store, or Google kicks them out for failing to abide by the revised terms. If I’m Apple, I’m hoping that some independent service reports such an event, then using my press contacts to make sure the tech media trumpets how Android developers are leaving in droves.

Strategically, though, I expect to see several things arise in the coming years:

  • More emphasis on agents: There should be a rise in firms that will serve as agents for app developers. These agents would license apps from developers and sell those apps on the Play Store and elsewhere, in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. These agents, in turn, would provide the physical point-of-presence and front-line SLA handling, delegating any “real” support questions to the developers.

  • Formation of developer cooperatives: Some agents will likely be scum, if for no other reason than middlemen tend to run the gamut from sensational to scum in other places. Hence, I expect one or more developer cooperatives to form, to help ensure that there is at least one non-scum middleman. These would be registered as businesses or non-profits and would serve as an agent for their members, filling the middleman role while being a bit more transparent and friendly to the membership. Cooperatives with significant traction in specific countries might offer additional member benefits akin to what you might get from other forms of associations, such as group health insurance in the US, with an eye towards helping individual and small business developers. It is possible that existing groups, like the App Developers Alliance, might morph into this role.

  • Rise in interest in other distribution channels: Individual developers frequently skip other distribution channels (Amazon AppStore for Android, BlackBerry World, direct distribution, etc.) as they are a bit of a headache. Agents will be more interested in those channels, as they are “force multipliers” for their catalog of licensed apps. This in turn should spur development of Play Services replacement frameworks, better instructions for writing apps that can be deployed in multiple channels at once, and so on.

  • Greater consolidation of developer power: Agents, whether they are independent firms or are developer cooperatives, will wield more power than will the individual developers they represent, just due to sheer mass. Whether that concentration of power will be sufficient to cause Google to start behaving more transparently will depend largely upon…

  • Legal action: From the EU competition commission to class action suits, I expect Google’s legal team to be busy. Other markets may sue to break the “most-favored-nation” status that the Play Store has on Android devices, attempting to drive Google to create an “app installer” API that developers could support and users could opt into to allow apps to have Play Store-like ability to install and upgrade apps. Greater transparency around apps being kicked out of the Play Store, better support channels from Google to developers, and the like will also be part and parcel of what legal action might try to improve.

Now, my skills at predicting the future are modest at best, which is why I write Android books and do not tell fortunes. However, these seem like probable responses to the recent Play Store moves.

Want an expert opinion on your Android app architecture decisions? Perhaps Mark Murphy can help!