Epic scored an historic win over Google when a jury ruled that the search giant’s Google Play Store was an illegal monopoly that dampened competition. The decision could also have potentially huge ramifications on the world of cord cutting, opening up everything from subscriptions to in-app film or TV show purchases.
The jury found that Google had partnered with handset manufacturers and big game developers in a bid to secure Play Store as the only legitimate way to sell apps to Android users. While there are ways to sideload programs and files, it’s not an easy process and Google throws up tons of warning messages to stop you. The crux of Epic’s argument is that this monopoly that Google held allowed it to charge a 30% commission on all transactions in its store, from app purchases to items and services within the app. Because of its power, companies had to put up with the commission or cease offering services in the app.
That could all change. U.S. District Judge James Donato has yet to decide on the remedy, but he could order Google to make some big changes to Android. That could include potentially lowering fees or allowing billing and payment systems outside of its Play Store store. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney told CNBC that he will push for lower fees, alternative app stores, and fewer scary warnings when installing software from the internet. The big move would be to open Android up to more app stores.
“The key is that the judge is going to force Google to open up the platform to alternative storefronts, and that ruling will spill over and cause Apple to do the same,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities.
Such a move could drastically change how people interact with apps on Android and, potentially, on iOS as well. Other app stores could spring up offering similar, if not identical apps and services, and potentially charge a smaller commission. You could see larger players like Spotify or Amazon negotiate deals with other stores to allow them to offer streaming subscriptions or movie or show purchases within the app. Netflix, which rejected a deal from Google to allow subscription and sign-ups within its Android app, could bring that feature back if those commissions go drastically down or disappear altogether. You currently have to move to a mobile web browser page to actually sign up or pay for Netflix.
Pachter noted that he sees a scenario where Google and Apple will eventually try to lock in developers by offering smaller commissions for a guaranteed lock-in period, like 20% for 10 years, for example.
Bigger companies — like the Netflix or Amazon’s of the world — stand to benefit, but smaller developers may end up sticking with Google since it offers such a widely used platform. Carolina Milanesi, an analyst for Creative Strategies, added those developers also rely on the tools made available by the platform, which include payment systems.
Ideally, the proliferation of app stores could see commission rates go down overall, which could lead to potential savings flowing back to consumers. Milanesi, however, was skeptical that consumers would see much benefit.
“This is not a ‘for the sake of the consumer fight,’ it is all about its business and profit,” she said about Epic.
Google, for its part, blasted the decision and will file an appeal.
“We plan to challenge the verdict,” said Wilson White, vice president of government affairs and policy for the search giant. “Android and Google Play provide more choice and openness than any other major mobile platform. The trial made clear that we compete fiercely with Apple and its App Store, as well as app stores on Android devices and gaming consoles. We will continue to defend the Android business model and remain deeply committed to our users, partners, and the broader Android ecosystem.”
An Apple spokesperson wasn’t available to comment on the potential impact to its own App Store.
Sweeney doesn’t expect quick change — if any.
“If Google is obstructing a vertical remedy through appeals and isn’t offering an awesome deal,” Sweeney said, the company will not be on Google’s Play Store.