Android Market Is Ailing, Requires Care and Feeding, Analysts Say

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-07-05

Android Market Is Ailing, Requires Care and Feeding, Analysts Say

When Google unveiled its Android Market in 2008 as a source of applications for its open-source operating system for smartphones and other mobile gadgets, it was pitched as the freewheeling alternative to Apple's more closed and proprietary iPhone App Store.

The Android Market application count has risen steadily to more than 65,000 programs. But now that hands-off approach and lack of management, accompanied by some access issues, is causing Google problems.

Software developer Jon Lech Johansen, who built an Android application for his music synchronization company DoubleTwist, published a blog post June 27 in which he noted that Google does not provide proper care and feeding for the Android Market.

"Unlike Apple's App Store, the Android Market has few high-quality apps," Johansen wrote, citing a study from Larva Labs showing that Apple has paid out 50 times as much money to developers as Google has.

Johansen added, "While the Android Market is available in 46 countries, developers can only offer paid apps in 13 countries. In addition, 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's biggest complaint was that the channel is full of trademark and copyright infringement, noting that there are "144 spam ringtone apps (which are clearly infringing copyright) ... being monetized through Google ads."

As a programmer who wrote a DoubleTwist app for Android, his complaints are valid. Others can be seen on the Android Market help forum.  

Google declined to comment, but industry watchers such as John Battelle and several analysts have taken note.

"Apple focuses on design and customer experience before anything else and a premium experience you pay for, while Google leads with technology and the idea that software should be free or close to it," industry analyst Rob Enderle told eWEEK. "The end result is that Apple has created, at least initially, a far more successful model, while Google is struggling."

Analysts Discuss Android Market Ailments

Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart told eWEEK:

"I'm not convinced that Google's hands-off approach has increased the quality of the offerings there; the opposite seems to be true. Over the long run, it is certainly possible that the open nature of Android's Market will lead to a killer app, but for now the managed approach is winning out."

There are other issues afoot. Sometimes the download count is off, as it was on June 12. Sometimes the Android Market goes dark, as it did for 30 minutes June 23.  

Google also attracted attention when it exercised the remote application removal feature, or kill switch, to remove two potentially malicious applications from Android devices.

Gartner analyst Van Baker told eWEEK, "This is an issue that is largely below the radar now, but a high-profile malware infection will likely highlight the weakness of the Google approach.

"They rely on the user base to flag problem applications rather than have a testing protocol of their own. They will need to fix this ultimately and at least test the applications for malware and security risks. The risk is to Google's reputation, not the legitimate developers."

Failure to address the spam applications, legal infringement and availability issues could lead to developers leaving the Android Market for Apple's App Store.

While the App Store is maligned in some quarters for being draconian in its approach, it is easily the best store of its kind in the market.

"If Google doesn't fix their App store, given most [developers] do Apple as well, their loss will go to Microsoft or HP," Enderle said. "They have about six months to get this fixed before they really start bleeding developers who, once burned and gone, likely won't come back."

Baker doesn't believe Google will let it get to that: "A recent survey that I saw showed that the percentage of developers interested in Android [was] almost as high as the percentage interested in developing for Apple. The momentum behind Android will continue to attract developers and the Apple market size will do the same thing. Ultimately a large and growing installed base of devices attracts developers."

In the meantime, Google may want to heed this advice from GigaOm, which suggested the company manage application permissions and improve search for the Market.

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