Android in-app billing coming next week

In case you missed the announcement yesterday, Google has started testing in-app billing, which goes live next week. It's not exactly loads of notice for developers but still opportunity to test apps before Google turns on the feature.

"In preparation for the launch, we are opening up Android Market for upload and end-to-end testing of your apps that use in-app billing," Eric Chu writes at the Android Developers blog. "You can now upload your apps to the Developer Console, create a catalog of in-app products, and set prices for them. You can then set up accounts to test in-app purchases. During these test transactions, the in-app billing service interacts with your app exactly as it will for actual users and live transactions."

The test allows developers to upload their apps in "draft" form but not publish them, according to Google's in-app billing documentation. Apps can be published after Google turns on the feature. Meantime, developers can create test user accounts for accessing the apps.

"During the testing phase we are releasing version 2.3.4 of the Android Market application and version 5.0.12 of the MyApps application," according to the documentation. "To support in-app billing, devices running Android 3.0 must have version 5.0.12 (or higher) of the MyApps application. Devices running all other versions of Android must have version 2.3.4 (or higher) of the Android Market application."

In-app billing, or purchasing, is a differentiating feature Apple started offering through its App Store in summer 2009 and made available to free apps in October of that year. Last month, Apple extended the capability, allowing publishers of digital content to offer subscriptions. Google countered with a seemingly more flexible subscription plan that offers more profit back to publishers. This month, Apple changed how in-app purchases work, in response to problems with people racking up huge in-app bills.

In-app billing is an important catch-up feature for Android Market. Developers, will this affect if or how you will offer apps through Android Market? Please answer in comments.

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