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Google rewarms Android Market, still half baked next to iPhone App Store

Market mismanagement on Android

This summer, Jon Lech Johansen (aka DVD Jon), the developer of DoubleTwist, a desktop Mac and Windows app that provides Android with a third party option for media sync and desktop Android Market access resembling Apple's iTunes, complained about "Google's mismanagement of the Android Market," noting that "one should not need a PhD in Computer Science to use a smartphone," and that "Google does far too little curation of the Android Market."

Johansen added that, "unlike Apple’s App Store, the Android Market has few high quality apps. A study by Larva Labs (the developers of the excellent Slidescreen app) estimates that Apple has paid out 50 times more money to developers than Google has. While the Android Market is available in 46 countries, developers can only offer paid apps in 13 countries." Google has since expanded the number of countries where developers can sell paid apps to 32, out of 44 total (12 only support free distribution). Apple supports App Store sales in 90 countries.

"In addition," Johansen wrote, "the price for foreign apps is not displayed in the user’s local currency and developers do not have the option of customizing pricing by country. To make matters worse, you can’t pay for foreign apps using your Amex card or carrier billing. There’s also no support for in-app payments and changelogs (to communicate app changes)."

Johansen also complained of "spam ringtone apps (which are clearly infringing copyright) [that] are currently cluttering the top ranks of the Multimedia category. I was not surprised to find that they were being monetized through Google Ads," while also pointing at other examples showing that "trademark and copyright infringement is widespread in the Android Market," including apps pretending to be iTunes and paid themes that use Disney characters (or artwork from third party games, as noted above.) "it’s time for Google to clean up the house," Johansen wrote.

Six months later, none of the fake apps or infringing themes Johansen depicted in his blog posting have been removed from the Android Market catalog by Google.

fakes and theft in Android Market

Theft and advertising

This fall, a report noted that the developer of Radiant, an Android top ten game title, had found 97 percent of players in Asia were using an illegal copy, 70 percent in Europe, and 43 percent in North America. The game was priced at just $2.40, but the majority of Android users found it more attractive to steal the game than support the developer's efforts by buying it legitimately.

Despite figures showing that Android smartphones are selling in volumes that now exceed Apple's iPhone, the fractionalization of the Android platform (which attempts to reach a much wider range of hardware performance, with different versions of the core operating system installed across devices), the primary business model Google promotes for Android apps is not paid apps, but in game advertising, which Google stands to benefits from as the largest mobile advertiser targeting the platform.

Proportionally, more than twice as many apps are distributed for free and supported by ads than any other mobile platform, according to Distimo.

App Stores

Situation unlikely to change dramatically

"Angry Birds" developer Rovio brought its title to Android as an free ad-based title, noting "that is the Google way," in a tweet. Google's Android Market has also come under assault from top Android developers for sloppy policies regarding app approval, poor security for users' data and allowing developers to collect inappropriate information from users without their consent.

Building an iTunes-like desktop sync application for Android and policing its software catalog would require Google to make significant investments in the platform. However, Google employees have noted that the company sees web apps as the future, rather than a native app platform like that built by Apple, or the new mobile platforms being released, including Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook, and HP's webOS, acquired from Palm.

Google's delayed Chrome OS pursues web apps exclusively, and already provides a web-based market for apps, closely patterned after Apple's iTunes App Store.

Chrome Web Store