Tag: Google Play

Legal attempts to pry open app stores have come to fruition

Articles

Google Play Android app store

There is action taking place that is prying open the app-store marketplace for mobile platform devices

Spotify and Google Give You Choice in Paying Them (droid-life.com)

Apple will allow third-party app stores, because the EU mandates it | Mashable

Apple is reportedly preparing to allow third-party app stores on iOS | Engadget

Previous Coverage on HomeNetworking01.info

USA to pry open mobile-app-store market

My Comments

Thanks to the “Fortnite” saga where Google and Apple were accused of slugging Epic Games with commissions for selling in-app commodities via their mobile-platform app stores, there has been a shake-up regarding how these app stores are run.

This has also been intensified with various jurisdictions instigating work on or passing legislation and regulation regarding a competitive market for online app stores. One of these is the European Union with the Digital Markets Act which targets large online services that have a gatekeeper role, along with the USA with its Open App Markets Act which targets app stores appearing on mobile and desktop computing platforms and other devices like games consoles or smart TVs.

The Europeans see their effort not just to pry open app stores but also search engines, social networks, video-sharing sites, digital ad platforms, public cloud platforms, even so-called intermediary services like AirBnB, Uber, Uber Eats and Booking.com. There are similar efforts also taking place within UK and Australia with this effort resulting in codes of practice being established for online services.

What has happened so far

Google has taken steps to enable user-choice billing for in-app purchases normally made through their Play Store.

Firstly, they allowed people who use Bumble online-dating apps to subscribe directly with Bumble or via the app store. Now they have enabled Spotify subscribers to pay for their subscription either through the Play Store or direct with Spotify. Of course, some online services like Netflix and Britbox allow for direct payment for their subscriptions by requiring you to manage your account through the service provider’s Website.

But Google will implement this feature at the checkout point in your purchase by allowing you to select payment via Google Play or directly with the software developer. When you pay directly, you will see the online service payment user-experience provided by the developer including the ability to redeem their service’s gift vouchers, pay using PayPal or pay using a payment card platform they have business relations with. Or you pay using Google Play Store’s payment user interface that you would be familiar with.

When your payment-card statement arrives, you will see a reference to Google if you paid for the online commodity through them or a reference to the software developer / online service if you paid directly.

Paying directly would mean that software developer or online service gets your money without having to pay a “cut” to Google for accepting payment via the Google Play Store. As well, the software developer or online service is at liberty to sign up with other payment means like PayPal, other credit cards like AMEX or Discover / Diners Club, or national account-linked payment platforms like EFTPOS, Carte Bleue or EC-Karte. There is also the ability for them to offer gift vouchers that go towards their offerings.

Another benefit that will come about if you pay for a subscription directly is that if you change to a different mobile platform, your subscription is kept alive rather than you having to reinstigate your subscription with the new platform’s app store and payment mechanism.

It also positions the Google Play Store’s online payment arrangement in competition with the software developer or online service thus improving the terms of business for accepting payment from customers. An example of this is both service providers providing a link with payment-anchored loyalty programs as a way to incentivise customers towards payment through their platforms.

Another direction being taken towards prying open the app stores is Apple baking  support for third-party app stores into iOS 17 which is the next major feature release of iOS. This is in addition to offering newer versions of the iPhone with USB-C ports rather than MFi Lightning ports for external connectivity. Here, this is due to intense European pressure to open themselves up to open markets by the European Union. But the support for third-party app stores would also come down to the Open App Markets Act that is being pushed through the US Congress.

Issues to be resolved

One issue that will have to be resolved is how the average smartphone or tablet user can install a competing app store to their device.

This is more about where a smartphone manufacturer or mobile operating system developer can get away with burying this option behind a “developer mode” or “advanced-user mode”. Or it could be about onerous requirements placed on software developers by mobile platforms when it comes to creating or publishing their software such as access to application-programming interfaces or software development kits.

The app stores will also have to be about selling good-quality compelling software and games. This is so they don’t end up as the equivalent of bulletin boards, download sites and optical discs attached to computer magazines where these resources were full of poor-quality software, known as “shovelware”.

Then there is the appeal of competing app stores to consumers and software developers. Personally I see these stores have initial appeal in the gaming sector with the likes of Steam or GOG existing on mobile platforms. Also I would see some software developers operate their own app stores as a way to maintain end-to-end control of their apps.

Conclusion

There are steps being taken by Google and Apple to liberate their mobile-platform software ecosystem even though it is under pressure from competition authorities in significant jurisdictions.

USA to pry open mobile-app-store market

Article

Google Play Android app store

Legislation or regulation to come about to open up the app-store market on mobile devices to competing providers

How the Open App Markets Act wants to remake app stores – The Verge

What the Open App Markets Act means for future of Big Tech (fastcompany.com)

From the horse’s mouth

US Congress

Open App Markets Act (Follow this law through Congress)

My Comments

At the moment, if you want to add functionality to your smartphone or tablet, you have to use the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store to download the necessary apps. Some Android phone manufacturers like Samsung and Amazon run their own app stores with the former operating theirs alongside Google’s app store and the latter in lieu of that app store.

This process also affects post-download transactions like purchasing the software after a trial, subscribing to the services associated with the software or buying microcurrency for a game using real money. With services like Netflix or Spotify or mobile ports of some desktop software, you use the service’s desktop user interface to sign up and pay for subscriptions then you log in to the user account you created for that service using the mobile app to benefit from what you paid for.

The same approach is being used for the ChromeOS platform and Microsoft and Apple want to push this on to their Windows and MacOS desktop computing platforms. This is more so with Microsoft and the ARM-powered Windows laptops or offering lightweight “S” variants of Windows for cheaper computers. It is also implemented with games consoles, connected-TV/set-top-box platforms, printers, network-attached storage devices, routers, connected vehicles and the smart home as a way to add functionality to these platforms.

This may even apply to app stores on regular computers like the Windows Store

Here, some of the companies in Big Tech want to provide that same kind of walled garden that is expected with games consoles for other computing devices as a way of providing some perceived “simplicity” and security for these devices.

Concern has been raised about this approach due to frustrating competition for apps on these platforms. It includes a monopsony approach where software developers are disadvantaged due to the app store charging commissions on software-related transactions or exacting onerous terms and conditions on software developers who want to have their apps available on the popular mobile platforms.

This is an issue that has been brought about by the Fortnite saga where Apple frustrated Epic’s wishes to sell microtransactions, subscriptions or similar services for Fortnite independently of Apple even for iOS ports of that game. There is similar activity going on in the European Union with the Digital Markets Act to push for competition in the mobile-computing-device realm while the authorities in charge of market competition in the UK and Australia are examining this issue.

What is the Open App Markets Act about?

What the Open App Markets Act means is that competing app markets can exist on mobile and similar-use platforms like iOS and Android. It also requires that these platforms have a requirement to allow users to sideload apps to their devices and the platform can’t default to its own app stores.

Sideloading is primarily transferring software from a regular computer or external / network file storage to the mobile or other device in order for it to run on that device. This is similar to the way we have installed software on our Windows, Macintosh or Linux computers for a long time. Here, we have inserted a floppy disk or CD-ROM in to a computer and ran an installation from that storage medium to have the software on the computer. Or we downloaded the software from the developer’s Website or a download site to our computer’s hard disk and ran the installation program associated with that software to install it.

It could also extend to software developers making the software available to download or purchase from their own Web presences, including processing any post-download payment transactions there. This means that the software developer gains effective control over their software through its lifecycle.

If software developers wish to implement post-download transactions for their software such as converting a trial version to a full-service program, offering subscriptions or selling microcurrency for a game, they can use a competing storefront or facilitate their transactions on their own Websites.

Who would it primarily benefit?

A user group that would benefit from the competitive app market would be gaming enthusiasts. Here, they would benefit from games-focused app stores like Steam, Epic and GOG who run their own leaderboards, online game saving, and online forums. Similarly, games developers would be running their own app stores for their games titles, continuing to offer the same kind of integrated functionality.

I also see Microsoft behind this idea because of software development being their founding stone with an example being the XBox One designed from scratch to support home-developed games. This is because they want to run app stores as a way to make it easier for up-and-coming software developers to put their wares on their market.

What are the issues here?

One key issue that would come up in my mind is a replication of the “bulletin board” or “download site” era that existed before and during the early days of the Internet. This is akin to the “shovelware” magazine-cover CD-ROM era that existed in the early days of optical data storage. That is where you had online or offline collections of poor-quality software available for download or installation on your regular computer. It is something that has affected some app stores in their early days where they were replete with poor-quality apps.

Here, there was very little effort regarding quality control when it came to making software available on a bulletin board or download site or adding software to an optical disc that was attached to a computer magazine. This is compared to most app stores where the people who run the stores vet the software before it is published as well as running “editor’s choice” or “spotlight” programs to feature good-quality software,

Apple and Google challenge the competitive app store approach because they see exclusive app stores as a way to maintain standards regarding software for their platforms.

Here, they see this primarily with data security and user privacy. But they also see this with maintaining legal and social expectations regarding the kind of software available on personal devices. This ranges from issues like suitability for children and suitability to use in the workplace or around your family; along with being able to facilitate access to undesireable content like hate speech or disinformation.

How could these issues be answered?

Computing-platform, operating-system and device vendors, amongst other strong voices in the personal/business IT and cybersecurity world could implement one or more “seal-of-approval” systems on apps or app stores. There would even be various legal protections and requirements placed on the software and app stores like intellectual-property or media-classification requirements, Here, the software or app stores have to maintain certain quality and similar standards before acquiring that “seal of approval”.

Endpoint-security logic that is part of the operating system or a third-party endpoint-security program offered by a brand of respect would add extra friction to installing or running software that doesn’t have one or more of these “seals of approval”. As well, such software would be required to identify and easily remove such software.

Similarly, these companies could vet software developers’ access to software-development kits and application-programming interfaces so that the developer has to be in “good standing” to use the features that matter in an operating system. As well, software-authentication regimes will be implemented in a strong manner for any software that is distributed or installed on these devices.

Is there a risk of a limited rollout of open app-market features

There can be a risk of Big Tech creating versions of their app-store-driven computing platforms for particular geopolitical areas when each area enacts open-app-market legislation.

In this situation, when a user registers a new device or the device’s operating system is updated, there would be logic to test whether the device is within a country or region under an open-app-market mandate then deliver a compliant version of the software to those areas. That is while a noncompliant version of the software is delivered to new or updated devices in areas that don’t have the open-app-market mandate.

This is similar to an issue faced in Australia with the motor industry where vehicle builders are “dumping” vehicles that are less fuel-efficient in to that market. That is because there aren’t the fleet-wide vehicle-efficiency mandates there that are similar to those mandates affecting USA, Europe or South East Asia.

Here, the issue that would be raised is having markets that aren’t regulated with open-app-market mandates being areas to continue the status quo regarding anticompetitive behaviour. Add to this intense lobbying of government or political parties by Big Tech to continue the same kind of behaviour with impunity.

Conclusion

What may be coming about for smartphones, mobile-platform tablets and similar devices is that governments will be forcing open the app-store markets for these devices so that users can seek software from competing suppliers.

Two ways to put indie games on the map

Article

GOG Galaxy client app (Windows)

One of the indie games markets out there

Calling all indie developers in the US & Canada: sign up for the Google Play Indie Games Festival in San Francisco | Google Android Developers Blog

Google Play announces 2017 Indie Games Festival for US and Canadian developers | 9to5 Google

Jump aims to be “Netflix for indie games” while still benefiting developers | KitGuru

Previous coverage

Competition arises for the online games storefront

My Comments

An issue that may face a games developer who wants to work the independent path is how they can put the game on the map as far as the public is concerned. For some developers, the importance is about avoiding heading to the “Hollywood of electronic games” where computer games become very similar in quality to the Hollywood blockbuster movies or popular American network and cable TV shows which ends up with the same-old content amid questionable ethics.

Google Play Store

Google Play Store – a step towards the indie game market

One way would be to put the games on one or more platform-specific app stores like the iTunes App Store, Google Play or Microsoft Store. On the other hand, if the game is to be targeted at regular computers, it may be about offering the games to indie-focused software markets like GOG Galaxy or the upcoming Jump subscription-driven market.

The second option appeals to those who want to keep it purely without mainstream influence, as if it is like offering indie-music records through the inner-urban record stores and having it played on community radio stations or by venues visited by the target audience like the cool cafes. It may also include making the games downloadable through the developer’s own Website. But it may only appeal for Windows, Linux or Mac regular-computing platforms rather than mobile devices or consoles and set-top devices.

But Google has taken a process similar to a mainstream full-line music outlet running and promoting an “indie” genre. Here, they are running the “Indie Games Festival” in San Francisco to draw out indie games developers and have them offer the Android platform the best software they can provide. What I see of this is it is a way to stimulate the indie games market especially courting those developers that are writing for mobile platforms.

I even see the Microsoft Store in a better position to court the indie games developer who doesn’t mind going down the second path by encouraging them to develop games for the Windows platform and the XBox One console in a “write-once” approach. Here, they could take a similar approach to Google by running a dedicated festival for indie games developers who want to approach regular-computer and games-console platforms.

At the moment, when it comes to the games for the regular computer, being able to use a dedicated indie-game market or using an established games market like Microsoft Store, iTunes Mac App Store or Steam are the viable games options. But when it comes to targeting other devices like mobile devices, games consoles or set-top devices, the only way would be to use the platform-specific app stores and unless the platform encourages quality independent software development, these will be very limiting for the indie games developer.

There still needs to be interest in and support for the indie games market from many app stores and games markets so that electronic gaming is an environment for high-quality electronic games that appeal to all people.

BT now offers an Android home phone that goes all the way to Google Play

Article BT brand identity  Enquiries about this image can be made to the BT Group Newsroom on its 24-hour number: 020 7356 5369.  From outside the UK, dial +44 20 7356 5369.  News releases and images can be accessed at the BT web site: http://www.bt.com/newscentre.

BT’s new home phone is as smart as your Android mobile | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

British Telecom

Press Release

My Comments

There have been some attempts by device manufacturers and established telecoms companies to provide an advanced home telephone to justify to residential customers the idea of keeping an existing landline phone service. It was something we used to do before the availability of cost-effective mobile phones especially smartphones and was the main business for these phone companies.

Examples of these phones include the Telstra T-Hub series which had a separate handset and a separate tablet which ran on a proprietary operating system along with various Android phones that didn’t have mobile connectivity but could work with a Wi-Fi home network.

BT used to offer an Android home phone but this didn’t have access to the Google Play Store which had all of the apps available for the Android platform. Rather this relied on the Opera Browser app store as a place to purchase these apps. Now they have just launched to the UK market the Home SmartPhone SII which has some interesting features.

The BT Home SmartPhone II is based on a fully-fledged Android 4.2 phone with integrated 2Gb memory which can be expanded like most Android smartphones. As well, you can download apps from the Google Play app store which has a large plethora of apps. You could even do things like load one of the many casual games like Candy Crush Saga or even install some of the “over-the-top” communications solutions like Viber,Skype or WhatsApp which are also supported with a front-facing camera for videocalls.

There is also the ability to filter out nuisance calls like “unidentified”, “number-blocked” or “payphone” calls so there is less risk of receiving unwanted calls  But this phone may be a hard sell with younger people who are sold on the idea of a mobile-phone-centric household but would appeal to older households who still place value on the traditional telephone handset in the home, especially as a common “catch-all” solution.

Philips to present Android all-in-one touchscreen displays

Article

Philips Launches Two Smart All-In-One Displays | TechPowerUp

Philips Smart All-in-One Android-Displays mit Touchsteuerung | Gizmodo.de (German language / Deutschesprache)

From the horse’s mouth

Philips

Product Page

S221C4AFD 21” variant

S231C4AFD 23” variant

My Comments

Philips S221C4AFD Smart All-In-One Monitor - press image courtesy of PhilipsAfter the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 had passed, it was for sure that Android was to step up to the plate as a desktop operating system and the classes of personal computing equipment were to be blurred. One class of equipment that was being premiered was a monitor that was an Android-driven “all-in-one” computer that that was being showcased running one of the Angry Birds games.

Philips was no further from the truth when they launched a pair of Android-powered Full-HD “smart monitors”. These monitors are able to work as primary or secondary displays for Windows computers but also work in their own right as the equivalent of a recent Android 4.2-powered tablet.

They are available as a 21” (S221C4AFD) or 23” (S231C4AFD) variant with full access to the Google Play store (and such goodies as Instagram, Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga and the like). Here they run this software using NVIDIA Tegra 1.6GHz horsepower and work with 2Gb RAM and 8Gb flash storage. They also can mount an SDHC card for your digital camera’s photos or other “offloading” storage requirements and connect to your home network using 802.11g/n Wi-Fi.

Some of us could see these as “toys” but they could be purposed not just as secondary monitors for your propped-up laptop. There is the ability to use these as task-focused computers like digital signage / electronic picture frames, kiosks, POS terminals and the like when it comes to work use or they could be used in the same vein as the Sony VAIO Tap 20 and its ilk where they end up on that ottoman so that two kids play air-hockey or similar multiplayer games.

At the moment. they are being sold in Europe for €440 (21” model) or €470 (23” model). This is a symptom of what will be happening with Windows and Android being the mainstream operating systems for both regular and mobile computing needs.

Sidekick app streams Google Play music to DLNA media devices

Article

Stream Google Play Music Songs To Any UPnP Or DLNA-Compatible Receiver | Lifehacker Australia

Cast To UPnP/DLNA for GMusic

Download link from Google Play Store 

Demonstration Music in video

Song: Earth Wind & Fire – Can’t Hide Love

Album: Earth Wind & Fire – Greatest Hits

My Comments

If you are buying music through the Google Play Store and want to get it out through some decent speakers, you don’t need to use Google’s Chromecast dongle and an HDMI-equipped TV. Rather, as regular readers will know, DLNA-compliant playback equipment in the from of stereos, home-theatre systems, wireless speakers and the like are more commonly available than the Google Chromecast HDMI dongle.

Instead the “Cast To UPnP/DLNA for GPlay” app adds the list of UPnP AV/DLNA media-renderer devices to the list of playback clients available for playing out your Google Play Store music. This can be a boon with home-theatre setups where you specifically don’t want the attached TV screen to light up every time you want music to play.

It is available as a time-limited free program but drop $2 within the program to guarantee it full functionality.

How should I assess apps from that app store

Windows 8 Store

Windows Store – one of the desktop app stores starting to surface

There is an Increasing number of app stores coming to the fore for each of the mobile and regular computing environments where you can buy and / or download software for your computing device. Some of these also provide for after-the-fact purchasing of add-on options for the software through the software’s user interface.

The situation that affects app stores

But there is a real danger that the app stores are becoming like the bulletin boards and online services that existed before the Internet and the software-download sites that existed in the early days of the Internet. This is where these locations were filled with substandard software that, in some cases, you come across software with very limited functionality that borders on useless but you to pay the developer before you can see a fully-functional package that you can enjoy using.

In the case of the app stores, the substandard software uses a poor-quality user interface or underperforms in a way where the device suffers a short battery life or performs sluggishly. There have been situations where the apps have been used for delivering malware especially through those app stores where there isn’t any real control on the software that is delivered. The limited functionality software also surfaces in these app stores more so with games that require you to buy options or virtual currency in order for you to enjoy playing them.

Even an app store that implements an approval process can be overwhelmed with software pending approval, which can lead to their standards being reduced in order to clear the backlog or increase the software quantity.

Identifying the good apps

IMDB Android

IMDB movie app for Android – one of the good app-store apps

But how do you identify a good app in those app stores and be sure you aren’t downloading a lemon?

  • One sign to look for is if the app has been put in the spotlight. Typically, the app may be positioned as an “editor’s choice” or “spotlight” app for its class or brought up front on the app store’s user interface. Blogs, newsletters and the like operated by the app store may cite the software in the “top picks” articles.
  • In some cases, if you hear your relatives and friends rave on about that app or you see many people in that train play that “time-waster” game on their smartphone or tablet, this could be the sign of a good app.
    You may also find that it’s a good idea to ask a computer-wise friend or relative about the apps you want on your device or get a second opinion on that app.
  • Similarly, the app would have some qualitative reviews in its “product-review” section. Here, you look for repeated reports of particular problems or notice many “copycat” or simplistic favourable comments, which could lead to a questionable app.
  • If you are looking for a “front-end” app for an online service, look for those apps that are published by the service themselves. This also holds true of apps that are linked with product and service brands. Typically these apps are announced through the brand’s advertising channels and the brands are wanting to defend their reputation.
    For example, I would prefer that Apple iOS users who are running newer versions of this operating system that didn’t come with YouTube pick up the Google YouTube app from the iTunes App Store. Similarly, when I was writing my article about the sports scoreboard apps, I recommended those apps commissioned by the sports leagues / codes themselves or the sports broadcasters.
  • The version number of the app may give away clues to the revision cycle that is taking place. Where there is a lot of revision taking place leading to a multi-point number like 1.3.1 typically indicates that there is a level of quality control going on. There may be some exceptions to the rule especially if the app or game is well-written from the start and this may apply with some of the casual games which are based on a known algorithm.
  • It may also be worth looking at what other software the app developer has offered to the app store. Here, look for the kind of reviews the software has as well as whether the software has ever been featured.
  • Also be aware of apps that require permission to use functions or resources not to do with its stated job. These can be about spyware or cause the phone or computer to underperform.
    Here, it may be worth checking the “blurb” about the software in the app store if it is requiring the use of the cameras or the location sensor because some of these sensors are used beyond the obvious. For example, some programs implement the GPS sensor as a distance-measuring tool or an increasing number of programs use the cameras for their machine-vision needs.

In some situations, cutting back on the number of apps on your device can allow it to perform smoothly, and you may have to be ready to uninstall some apps if you find them “swamping” your computer, tablet or smartphone.

Once you know how to sort the wheat from the chaff at your computing platform’s app store, you are in a good position to make sure that the devices that work on that platform are working smoothly.