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Google reacts to Apple's in-app subscriptions with One Pass service

by Phil Hornshaw

Apple (AAPL) has an in-app subscription service out, and Google (GOOG) has followed suit with Google One Pass, a single email/password combination service that will allow users to purchase content from publishers in mobile apps and on the web.

Fierce Mobile Content has the story, which states that Google is making One Pass available to content publishers and giving them a lot of freedom in setting prices and implementing the service -- which is more or less exactly the opposite of the Apple system, which requires content producers to give Apple a 30 percent cut of any subscriptions and content they sell. Apple’s system also comes with new rules that require app developers to sell their content through the app for either the same price or less than it’s available for elsewhere, and that do away with the ability to link to web stores or other outlets for selling the content through iOS apps -- all content sales on apps must go through Apple.

Meanwhile, Google’s system for publishers is a lot less restrictive and looks great beside complaints of content publishers on iOS. Hey, I said Google should do this very thing only yesterday! Apparently they were already right there with me.

Google outlined the new service on its development blog, stating that One Pass gives publishers the ability to authenticate a user’s identity to allow switching content back and forth between multiple devices, which helps publishers to not accidentally charge them over and over. Google didn’t divulge what cut of any the sales it gets when users buy content through One Pass -- Apple takes 30 percent of content sales through in-app purchases.

The control is in the publishers’ hands for the most part with One Pass, according to Google. How content gets charged is completely up to the provider, and Google included subscriptions, metered access and even a “freemium” model (free but with premium content that must be purchased) as examples. Publishers can charge by the article if they want or give free or discounted content, and the whole transaction is handled by Google Checkout.

A key difference, however, is that Apple’s subscription service applies not only to publishers like magazines and newspapers, but to everyone who offers subscription-based content to an iPhone or iPad app. Music and video distributors such as Rhapsody and Netflix (NFLX) are included under the rules, it seems, as well as e-book distributors and anyone else that lets users purchase content -- they have to do it Apple’s way or they can’t have apps for iOS devices.

Google mentions publishers that are signed-on with the project, but there’s no mention of One Pass extending to other areas: it seems like a service mostly magazines and newspapers or developers who want to sell content subscriptions, not a distribution model for everything that goes through an Android app. That means the implications of One Pass are, obviously, less far-reaching than they are on iOS.

Still, Google’s open approach and flexibility should prove attractive to publishers, especially if and when they get tired of dealing with Apple’s more obtrusive system. What it shouldn't mean is a wholesale change in the way things are done in the Android Market or with Android apps -- Rhapsody will still work like Rhapsody and Kindle will still work like Kindle, at least for now. Google isn’t forcing One Pass on anyone.

It’s doubtful Google will want to upset its apple cart much right now by rolling out anything like Apple’s content-selling rules beyond what it has already done, and will instead sit back and enjoy the contrasts content producers and distributors are undoubtedly seeing between the two operating systems.