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Google Play store unwraps new ways to subscribe, pay

The search giant introduces new pricing options for apps -- like limited-time subscriptions -- and makes a big Play store push in emerging markets.

Google announced updates to its Play Store.
James Martin/CNET

Google's Android software powers almost 9 out of every 10 smartphones in the world. Now Google is hoping its app store can keep up.

The search giant is making changes to Google Play, its online marketplace where you can download apps and games, Google said during a software developer event in San Francisco on Thursday. The company is also making a big push at hooking in users in emerging markets.

The updates are centered around how customers can subscribe and pay for services available on Google Play. For example, app makers can now choose different promotional prices for subscriptions, like offering a service for $1 a month for a few months, before bumping it up to the normal subscription price.

Google also touted its efforts to make it easier for people in emerging markets to pay for stuff on Google Play. The company has expanded its "direct carrier billing" feature, said Sameer Samat, vice president of product management for Android & Google Play. When using that option, charges for apps and other downloads from the Play Store show up on a customer's phone bill, instead of being charged to a credit card.

The company introduced the feature back in 2010, but Samat said Google has added or improved it in several new markets, including Malaysia, Kuwait and Vietnam. Now 600 million people globally can choose the option, he told CNET.

"As the next billion users come online, many with little or no access to credit cards, we want to help deliver the best payments experience for both developers and consumers," Samat said in an email.

The changes come as tech giants aggressively try to expand their user bases in the developing world. Many of those new users will be people only recently coming online, or only accessing the internet through their phones, and not desktop computers.

Elsewhere at Alphabet, Google's parent, the company is trying to shore up new users in emerging markets through a project called Loon, in which high-flying balloons beam down internet access to remote regions. Facebook is doing the same thing with drones.

The app store revamp also comes after Apple, Google's biggest rival in the smartphone software business, made several changes to its App Store for iPhones earlier this year. Apple's updates included changes in subscriptions and trying to make sure apps get approved more quickly.

Google on Thursday also talked up its "early access" program, which lets software developers put their apps on Google Play for a small number of users to test the apps before they launch. Google said the program has seen 4 million downloads since the company made it widely available in September.