Google boss Sundar Pichai has warned of the dangers of downloading apps outside of the Play Store.
One of the biggest differences between iPhone and Android is the sheer amount of freedom afforded by the latter. Android users can download and install almost any app – from anywhere online. But now, Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai has warned of the dangers of straying from the Google Play Store.
Pichai made the comments during a recent court hearing, highlighting the security concerns of downloading apps from third-party stores. Google is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Epic Games, the company behind the blockbuster hit Fortnite, over the practices of its Google Play Store.
"We don’t want to allow you to completely compromise your phone. It can install malware on your phone. It can compromise your safety, very significantly,” Sundar Pichai said. If that seems like it'd be at odds with the customisable and open ethos behind Android, the Google exec is well aware.
"We're trying to strike a balance," he admits. "Apple's iPhone only allows the App Store, but we believe in choice. So, on Android we allow you to sideload and install additional applications. It's like a seatbelt in a car. We are adding the protections so you can use it safely."
Epic Games, which is behind the global phenomenon Fortnite, is challenging Google at trial
Epic Games sued Google back in 2020 over the 30% commission it takes from digital goods sold in the Google Play Store and in-app purchases made within apps and games.
Epic Games claims Google's digital storefront, which is preinstalled on every Android device with access to Google services like YouTube, Gmail, and Google Maps, constitutes an unlawful monopoly.
The Fortnite developer wants Google to make third-party app stores, installing apps from the internet, and non-Google payment processing more accessible. Epic Games says these changes would make Android more welcoming to developers since they would be able to decide whether or not they wanted to distribute their apps and games in Google Play Store or a competing store on a level playing field.
However, Google argues that Epic Games' demands would prevent it from offering a secure user experience on Android because of the risks associated with allowing users to download software from anywhere.
Google claims that dismantling the protections in place to stop Android users from installing apps from third-party sources (known as "sideloading") would hamper its ability to compete with iOS and it argues it would be unable to run a competitive app store without the revenue collected from the 30% cut from app sales and in-app purchases.
If this all sounds a bit familiar, it's likely because Epic Games has already taken Apple to court over its identical 30% cut of in-app purchases and other app store practices. That lawsuit went to court in the United States back in 2021, while a series of delays pushed back the date of the Google hearing.
Californian Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers concluded in September 2021 that Apple wasn't unfairly monopolising its in-app purchasing system. As a result, Epic Games was ordered to pay damages for violating its developer agreement when it introduced a third-party payment system into Fortnite, leading to its ban from the App Store on iPhone and iPad.
However, Judge Rogers also ordered Apple to remove its policy that banned developers from telling their users about alternatives to Apple’s in-app purchase system.
The 30% cut taken by Apple and Google from their respective app stores only applies to digital goods. It's the reason you're able to order a takeaway, book a train journey, and rent a car from an app – but the Kindle app restricts the ability to purchase digital books to avoid giving a cut to Apple and Google.
Just as Google chief Sundar Pichai is promoting the benefits of a closed storefront, like the Google Play Store, Apple might be forced to offer iPhone owners the ability to "sideload" software.
The EU’s Digital Markets Act looks set to force Apple to enable its users to install applications and games from third-party locations. The change, which is widely tipped to arrive next year, could be limited to iPhone users living in the European Union.
It's unclear how the Californian company will strike a balance between security for iPhone owners and the freedom required by the EU legislation.