Android users on Vodafone will be the first in Europe to be able to pay for apps via their phone bill, the operator has announced.
The move is being seen as an attempt to retain control of the crucial payment relationship operators have with their subscribers, which has been challenged by app stores run by Google and Apple.
Initially only Android phones bought directly from Vodafone online, or from its high street shops, will be eligible for the new payment scheme, but there are plans to extend it to all handsets. Both monthly subscribers and pay-as-you-go users will be offered the chance to pay for apps from Google's Marketplace through Vodafone.
The network is encouraging app developers to use the service by claiming that they will sell more software because some Android users are reticent to provide their credit card details to a third party. Many young pay-as-you-go users may not even have a credit card.
“This evolution in Android app payment greatly improves the user’s purchase experience and consequently their likelihood of completing a sale,” Vodafone said on its developer blog.
“In addition to facilitating the best possible user experience, Vodafone operator billing extends your reach to the large number of app buying customers who are unwilling or unable to use credit cards.
“In some countries this can be more than 90 per cent of the market.”
The new approach is unlikely to be replicated on the iPhone App Store, however. Apple maintains a much tighter grip on iOS and takes a lucrative 30 per cent share of developers’ sales. Unlike Google it vets every app before it is made available for download.
Apple also frequently highlights the number of users it has convinced to supply their credit card details; in March Steve Jobs boasted it was “very likely” that Apple had a larger database of credit card details than the online retail giant Amazon.