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The world according to Android

Apple is receiving copious amounts of bad press due to their somewhat arbitrary and restrictive App Store policies. This isn’t going to change a thing at Apple, but the complaints are warranted. Android on the other hand is touted as being “the open platform”, and developers are invited to develop and sell their apps on the Android Market, rather than investing in a proprietary platform like the iPhone OS and the App Store.

So much for being open

When discussing the main emerging alternative platform, Android, we often hear about fragmentation issues, but critics tend to ignore the elephant in the room. Very few people can buy and sell apps on the Android Market. In fact, only developers from nine countries are allowed to sell applications on the Android Market. Take a look at the following map I prepared:

Android Market

Fine folks from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Russia, China, India, etc, are all excluded from this platform. Sure, they can sell apps on their own sites, but the real advantage of the App Store and the Android Market is in their ability to show and sell apps to a wide audience. If you lose that, you are pretty much out of the game or you’ll be starting off with a humongous disadvantage.

Is this the best Google can do?

Before you jump in and cut Google some slack, remember that the Android Market has been around for almost two years. As much as I want to cheer for the underdog, one has to ask if Google really thinks that this half-assed attempt will challenge the absolute supremacy of the App Store in the marketplace. How much innovation, money, and good will are they leaving on the table? Keep in mind that there is no stevejobs@google.com. Google is notoriously bad when it comes to supporting and listening to their customers, because trust me, I’m not the only one complaining about this.

I want to believe in the future of Android and the prospect of developing for it, but like many other developers I don’t even have the option. If I wanted to develop in the emerging mobile market and perhaps make some money out of it, it’s the iPhone OS way or the highway.


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6 Responses to “The world according to Android”

  1. Mark Murphy says:

    “If I wanted to develop in the emerging mobile market and perhaps make some money out of it, it’s the iPhone OS way or the highway.”

    If your definition of “perhaps make some money out of it” is limited to “sell individual apps to individual users at well under $1 profit per sale”, then your statement makes sense…and odds are you’re not going to make much money.

    Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m all for people having the right to not make much money on any platform they choose. The fact that the Android Market still only supports a handful of nations is definitely dumb, and one can only hope that the upcoming Market overhaul adds more payment options for buyers and sellers. This is one of the reasons I begged and begged for Android developers to support and promote alternative markets, to get one or more high-profile options. Alas, few listened.

    But if you’ve been paying the least bit of attention, you’ll notice that lots and lots of developers are not making much money on iPhone as well, despite fewer geographic restrictions on sellers. In a store of 100,000+ items, you can no longer just drop something out there and get the world to beat a path to your door. You have to sell apps to a boatload of users to make a living, and that requires more marketing effort than many developers are interested in.

    There are any number of other ways to make money in mobile besides selling individual apps to individual users for pennies. I’ve written up 49 of them, and there are certainly others: http://www.androidguys.com/2010/03/04/android-business-models/

    So, I’m in agreement with you that the Android Market needs broader availability of paid applications for sellers and buyers. I just think you’re kidding yourself if you think that’s a decent business model for most people.

  2. Teemu Kurppa says:

    Mark Murphy, you can’t neglect the fact if someone solves a payment problem, it’s going to be huge. Web never had a good payment solution: easy to use, hassle free, trusted-by-users. That’s why many offline business models were not viable in web.

    But it seems that mobile will have such payment solution.
    Don’t think payments for the apps, think in-app payments. Or in-web page payments in a few years.

    Apple is currently way ahead of both Android and Nokia’s Ovi in this game. Trying to do payment together with operators seems legal, operational and technical mess, unless open standard is invented (none in the sight to my knowledge).

  3. As a developer in Canada, I was annoyed to only find this out *after* paying the merchant account setup fee. See the full details on my blog here:

    http://paintinginnumbers.blogspot.com/2009/10/paranoid-android.html

    Thanks for pointing this out to your readers.

  4. If you don’t like the Google Checkout limitations in the Android Market, sell your app through a different site. If you don’t like Apple’s censorship with the App Store, well … um … [scratches head] …

    That’s the important difference between “open” and “closed,” Antonio. Open protects you from bad or simply incompetent behaviour from any vendor, even if that vendor is Google itself (or IBM, for that matter).

    • You could sell apps for jailbroken iPhones, and it would be just as bad as trying to sell your Android apps outside of the Android Market.

      But I agree with you, David. Openness is important and Android gives you, at least in principle, alternatives. However, in practice, Google acts as the gatekeeper when it comes to selling apps for Android. So the platform may be open, but the ecosystem is still restricted. The upside is that this can be changed, unlike the iPhone ecosystem.

  5. So I think your posting is really about sales channels and business models, Antonio, not about being open or closed. In that case, I’ll agree that Apple offers a more attractive sales channel for many app developers — in exchange, though you run the risk of being dropped with no notice or explanation, and no other way to reach your customers.

    The jailbreaking analogy goes a bit too far, though, since you don’t have to root an Android phone (and void the warranty) to install an app from outside the Market — several companies, such as GameLoft, are selling Android apps through their own sites to regular consumer users. I can’t imagine any company making a similar consumer-level (rather than geek-level) play to jail-broken iPhones.

    Another revenue option for Android devs in Canada, Australia, etc. is putting their apps on the Android Market for free download, then using PayPal from inside the app to enable features, something that I think Apple explicitly bans.

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