October 31, 2014

40 Android Business Models, Part Four

moneyThis blog post series illustrates business models for Android that go beyond simply dumping an app out on the Android Market and praying for sales. Monday, we looked at markets beyond individuals that you could sell to. Tuesday and Wednesday, we looked at some “freemium” models, where you give away the app to lots of people, and sell something else to some of them. Today, we move along to other sorts of products that you could create that tie into Android.

Model #20: Sell Development Tools

The classic “selling pickaxes to gold miners” model in software development is to sell tools to help software developers develop software. From Bill Gates and Microsoft Basic for the Altair to IntelliJ’s IDEA, firms have long been crafting and selling tools to make software development more productive.

Of course, today, many such tools are open source. However, there are still many firms, IntelliJ among them, that have carved out a niche in the tool space.

Here are some things Android developers could use that, individually or in aggregate, may generate interesting revenue:

  • True drag-and-drop GUI builders
  • Tools to design all the other XML-based resources (e.g., menus, preferences)
  • Tools to help manage the mind-numbing set of resource directories needed to handle multiple platforms and languages (e.g., given a device profile, trace which resources from which directories would be used)
  • Tools to help manage translations of terms (bonus points if you can do this as a crowdsourced Web site and service, so we can build up a library of translations and stop having to manually translate every little app one builds)

These could be implemented as Eclipse plugins, plugins for other IDEs (NetBeans, IDEA, etc.), or standalone applications.

Model #21: Sell Portability Toolkits

Firms like Appcelerator and projects like PhoneGap are trying to provide cross-platform portability via WebKit, for “write once, run anywhere” across mobile devices. That is not the only solution, and it might not even be the best one. If you think you can do a better job helping people support Android along with other platforms, you could make and sell a tool to do just that. In particular, if you can find ways to reuse existing enterprise mobile code (e.g., Windows Mobile), you can probably “charge a pretty penny” for such technology.

Model #22: Sell a Help and Support Framework

Android has no built-in online help system. This is baffling, but it creates an opportunity for developers looking to sell a product to Android developers.

While online help itself is not terribly “sexy”, an engine that would blend on-device help resources, Web-based resources, and various forms of live assistance (chat, Aardvark-style Q&A, etc.) and tech support, could easily be compelling. It might even be free (or very low-cost) to individual developers for publicly-visible support frameworks, with the revenue coming from major software vendors or enterprises who want the technology but need to keep their support private.

Model #23: Create a Content Marketplace

Amazon has its MP3 store for Android. In their case, they provide both the front-end (the Android client) and the back-end (the MP3 purchase process, licensing from the record labels, etc.). However, Amazon probably does not offer every possible MP3 — they may not carry Magnatune, for example. And there are other types of content, such as EPUB digital books, for which there is no “killer market” already out there. Rather than focusing on creating an Android client, create a market that can support whatever clients on whatever platforms could use it, perhaps using Android simply as a demonstration of what a mobile client could do with your market.

Unless this market is self-service (e.g., authors or publishers uploading books to be distributed, as with Scribd), the technology will be the least of your worries with this model.

Model #24: Create an Android Job Board

Right now, there is no “go-to” place for people looking to fill Android positions to use to solicit candidates. Joel Spolsky has demonstrated that a focused, high-quality job board can charge a fair amount per listing. Bootstrapping such a site could be a challenge, and you would need the site to be crisp and clean (versus some slapped-together solution, like using a Google Group) in order to attract recruiters and candidates. Assuming you can overcome those challenges, though, an Android-specific job board could make a nice bit of regular revenue, particularly as the demand for Android developers grows in the coming months and years.

Model #25: Create an Android Site Ad Broker

Android enthusiast sites, like AndroidGuys, seem to be stuck between using AdSense and selling their own ads. There may be a use for an Android ad broker — a firm that focuses on Android (or perhaps other mobile platforms as well) and connects advertisers with sites. Advertisers and sites would have greater control over the “creative” (e.g., the banners) and which specific sites they appear on than you normally get with AdSense, and sites may have a better chance of filling their inventory.

Model #26: Create Hardware Add-Ons

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Model #27: Create Device Accessories

Compared to iPhone, the Android device marketplace will be very fragmented. So while creating add-ons (e.g., extended batteries) and accessories (e.g., custom cases) is straightforward for Apple’s product line, there will be too many Android devices for many of the traditional add-on/accessory manufacturers to keep up with. This should leave unserved niches.

Trying to simply fill those niches may be impractical for a newcomer — after all, there are reasons they are niches. However, they may serve as a useful testbed for innovative new products that could later be rolled out to other Android devices and, if successful, compete against “the big boys” in the iPhone space.

For example, many Windows Mobile device users like so-called “hard cases”, usually made of aluminum. With sufficient interior padding to deal with the occasional drop, these cases make the device close to indestructible…but the metal case construction can interfere with signal strength. Coming up with a similar case style that uses non-interfering materials (e.g., some sort of polycarbonate) might be compelling, but it may be easier to pitch this to an underserved market niche first.

Device add-ons — things that integrate with the device itself, like a battery or external data collector — have different challenges, mostly in the area of device drivers. Android does not have a model for supporting aftermarket device drivers, so either the device supports your driver at the beginning, or it doesn’t.

Model #28: Write Books

Clearly, it is possible to write and sell books about Android, from application development to traditional user guides. There are even some firms taking some innovative approaches to selling these books that offer more potential revenue per copy sold than a regular author will earn in royalties. On the other hand, the Android developer book market is vicious, nasty, and occasionally balding.

Tomorrow, we will wrap up the series talking about different sorts of services (the human kind, not Web services) you could create that would tie into Android.


Mark Murphy is the founder of CommonsWare and is the author of The Busy Coder’s Guide to Android Development, The Busy Coder’s Guide to Advanced Android Development, and Android Programming Tutorials.