In-App Payments: Apple vs. Google

The control over the in-app payment ecosystem that Apple and Google have held for years has been a source of frustration for app developers relying on their paid digital offerings, such as gaming apps, streaming services, and paid news media. Under pressure from various lawsuits and stricter regulations, both Apple and Google have begun to adjust their policies regarding in-app purchases (purchases of content consumable within apps).

Apple: The reader app
The solution offered by Apple to sell products using its own payment method outside the app but via the app is subject to several conditions. The main ones are as follows:

  1. The app must be considered a “Reader” app by Apple. According to Apple’s definition, Reader apps include apps containing paid content in the form of digital magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, video, etc.
  2. To be treated as a Reader app by Apple, you must register the app for this entitlement, and Apple will verify if you qualify.
  3. As a condition for being treated as a Reader app, the app must not contain Apple-facilitated in-app purchases.
  4. The button leading to the web page where the publisher can facilitate the purchase outside the app must display the full URL of that specific page and must appear as an HTML text link.
  5. Only one URL per app is allowed for this purpose.
  6. The app must not display price information; this is only allowed on the web page outside the app.
  7. After a user presses that button, there is a mandatory intermediary screen from Apple displaying the message: “You are about to leave the app and go to an external website. You will no longer have transactions with Apple.”
  8. The web page opens in the standard browser after clicking “Continue” on this screen.
  9. It is not possible or allowed to send user data to this web page, such as whether the user is logged in or from which app screen the user navigated to the web page.
  10. On the web page, you are free to do whatever you want regarding selling and payment options, etc.
  11. Apple does not charge any commission for purchases made on the web page.

Google: Alternative billing
Google also offers the option to use its own payment system to sell in-app products, creatively called “Alternative billing.” The main conditions set by Google are as follows:

  1. Alternative Billing is only available for apps within the European Economic Area (EEA).
  2. Like Apple, you need to register the app to qualify for offering the alternative payment method.
  3. Games are not eligible for this option.
  4. Google allows using multiple payment methods together in one app, so Google billing can be offered alongside Alternative billing.
  5. Similar to Apple, you must show an intermediate screen, and Google has specified how this screen should look and what textual content it must contain. The message warns that transactions will be conducted outside the secure Google environment, and this screen must be shown only once.
  6. From this screen, the web page opens, where you are free to do whatever you want regarding selling and payment options, etc.
  7. If you use both Google billing and your own payment method, an additional screen is required after the warning screen where the user selects the payment method. This screen must also comply with Google’s UX guidelines.
  8. It is possible to send data from the app to the external web page, such as whether the user is logged in or the page from which the user navigated to the page.
  9. If you use your own payment method (as per point 4), you must still pay a 12%* commission to Google for the sales made through this process.
  10. You do this by uploading a monthly CSV file with an overview of the purchases made through this process. Google is expected to introduce a mandatory API to facilitate this process later on. Currently, Google cannot verify the accuracy and completeness of the file; the transaction takes place outside Google.

*In the case of publishers with an in-app revenue of up to 1 million USD per year.

Commission to be paid12%0%
Allowed to send data from app to webYesNo
Pre-register your app mandatory?YesYes
Combination with native payments?YesNo
Allowed to show the price in app?YesNo
Mandatory to show warning screen?OnceAlways
Number of  URLs from the app?>11

App publishers finally have a bit more room to take control of their own payments. However, Apple and Google have made sure not to make it too attractive. Apple’s solution disrupts the user experience with a mandatory unattractive warning screen and buttons that require complete URL entries. Google’s screens look more neutral, but they still charge a 12% commission. Let’s hope this is just a transitional phase, and both companies will continue to face pressure to further reduce their monopolistic positions. Despite the suboptimal solutions for app publishers to sell their own products, it’s essential to do so. A well-functioning registration and payment system within the app are critical to providing consumers with a seamless experience. Learning from Apple and Google might do the trick.

For more than 10 years, Pinch has been experienced in implementing in-app and external purchases.

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