October 25, 2014

Android Market Monkey Business?

android_vector_dDevelopers have derided the Android Market virtually since its inception last year. More recently, in SDK 1.6, Google responded to some of the developers’ concerns in a number of ways. Most notably, increased categorization for apps, and the new ability for app publishers to post up to two screen shots of their application. Depending upon your stake in the Android ecosystem, Google’s response may appear to be anything from “too little, too late” to “software selling supremacy”.

As an Android developer (and alliteration aside), my response to Google’s Market embellishments is that they have made a half-hearted attempt to placate developers. The support for that opinion, is as follows:

1). Android Market Apps Can be Mis-categorized – I’m sure Google expected the vast majority of developers to jump all over the new app categories they recently introduced. Unfortunately, many publishers appear to be more interested in shoe-horning their apps into the most popular categories, as opposed to the most appropriate categories. I understand how this type of behavior can occur, but if Google is serious about improving the Android Market, it can’t. The organization that brought search excellence to the world can undoubtedly find a parsing application to root out about 90% of this issue. And, if I have been too vague in this point, take a look at how many THEMES show up outside of their own specific category. There are other examples, as well …

2). Android Market Placement Can be Misled – Do you ever wonder how the same applications consistently show up at the top of the “Most Recent” (or, post-SDK 1.6,  “Just In”) category? It may not take a rocket scientist to discern that some publishers are “gaming” the system. Merely by submitting technically “new” files to the Android Market, these publishers are able to maintain advantageous positions on the apps lists. At first, I was gullible enough to believe that the mysterious algorithm Google uses to reward popular apps was the explanation. That is, until I noticed that many of the apps receiving “top-of-the-list” positions had been downloaded <50 times. Unless Google is testing some Android ad-words variant on the Market, something appears aloof.

3). Android Market Apps Can be Misrepresented – Now that I’ve outlined two of the most egregious Android Market sins, you would expect a well-behaved Android Market, right ? Well, maybe not so much, due to publishers who routinely market their “front-ends to online content” as stand-alone applications. Sure, the price for Market apps is practically negligible, but who likes to be duped, even if only for a small amount? I could go on to further illustrate my views on the repackaging of public information, etc., but I think we all get the point. If you call yourself an application, you really should BE an application.

4). This all results in Missed Opportunities – When innovative, envelope pushing apps are buried under a daily deluge of pop-culture themes, everyone loses. The developer loses the income necessary to support and improve their applications. The user gets frustrated with the “non-applications” that obscure the functional applications they purchased a smartphone to use. And, the burgeoning Android community loses credibility, as Android “evangelists” boast about the 10,000+ applications that exist on the Android Market.

I hope that Google’s latest Market-place enhancements are the first of many steps in a journey to realize the potential that is uniquely Android.