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Google Play Pass trumps Apple Arcade because the Play Store is such a mess

Commentary: Play Pass might be more useful, at least if you think you'll drop $60 on Android apps and games in a year.

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Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

Apple's App Store has some problems, but Google's Play Store is a mess: a confusing wall of icons punctuated by ads disguised as suggestions and useless recommendations. Search results appear in no discernibly logical order, and in-app purchase information and other pertinent details can be buried in low-contrast gray text at the bottom of a page that's already a wall of low-contrast gray text. 

A single game may appear repeatedly, discouraging browsing, and the store is dominated by already well-known apps and games, or copycat knockoffs of them, resulting in discoverability issues for everyone involved. Plus, there's the malware and adware headache and the universal quandary of how much you can trust ratings.

Enter Google's new Play Pass subscription, promising a curated boatload of Android games and apps (over 300 of them) with in-app purchases included for only $4.99 a month. A ticket icon next to an item in the Play Store indicates whether it's part of the program, and all the Play Pass apps and games are aggregated on a single tab, without ads. 

You don't have to decipher cryptic payment options. And by taking in-app purchases and in-game ads out of the equation, it makes managing kids' gaming easier and less hands-on. Since Google's picking them, you can (in theory) assume they're good and malware-free. It seems like what we already have, but a little bit better.

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Apple Arcade also addresses the in-app purchase problem, and also for $4.99 a month, but only for games. The company seems to be counting on the incessant craving for novelty -- look at the shiny, new "free" games this month -- to drive subscriptions. 

While Play Pass looks to be an oasis in a desert of confusion, at launch it looks like an oasis with a single palm tree and a cup of water. With only a handful of exceptions, the launch apps are pretty ho-hum, with none of the exclusives that got people excited about Arcade. There are some nice games in there, like Limbo, Reigns and Bridge Constructor Portal. On the nongame side, something Apple ignores, there's the well-regarded AccuWeather app and Facetune, both of which usually have ads and in-app purchases.

Few of the included apps and games, however, are real bank-breakers. Without Play Pass they would still have minimal costs associated with them beyond the initial price. You won't find a lot of apps with $15 in-app charges for... something. So, it might be just a little bit better than living a Play Pass-less life for most. But at least if you buy 12 $5 games a year, it's worth the price of entry.