A recent thread in the [android-discuss] Google Group has brought up, again, the question of “Will Android apps every [sic] make proper money?”. Compared to past threads on this topic, this thread is pretty good on the whole, so far at least. One person posted a list of “grievances”, though, that warrants some analysis.
The market for Android applications, right now, is a niche. It’s a nice-sized niche, probably over 3 million at the moment, but it’s still a niche compared to other possible markets. However, there is little about the market for Android applications that makes it structurally inferior to markets for applications for other platforms. There could be more to make Android better than other markets, but it’s not light-years worse, either.
With that in mind, let’s tackle the posted “grievances” one by one, comparing the poster’s perception of Android with the markets for Windows software, Web apps, and iPhone apps:
- Android: “limited exposure in Android Market in terms of presentation, global exposure and payment options”
- PC: zero exposure except what you generate yourself (the techniques for which are well-documented and are also available to you for Android apps)
- Web apps: same as PC
- iPhone: better than Android, but not perfect if you listen to the complaints from the iPhone developers
- Android: “rampant(?) piracy”
- PC: rampant piracy
- Web apps: piracy impractical in most cases
- iPhone: no significant piracy that I am aware of, counterbalanced by the problems getting your app onto the device in the first place (e.g., iPhone App Store gatekeepers) — probably a net win for iPhone by a bit
Ads, Part One
- Android: “unreasonably high entry level to AdSense”
- PC: AdSense not an option, AFAIK
- Web apps: AdSense may be an option (reading the T&C’s, it feels like they want content sites, not app sites, so I’m not 100% sure)
- iPhone: same as Android
Ads, Part Deux
- Android: “unsophisticated integration of ads in general”
- PC: ad-based software hasn’t proven itself to be useful outside of perhaps games (e.g., does Opera even run ads anymore?)
- Web apps: better than Android
- iPhone: same as Android, AFAIK
- Android: “restricted ability to set up one’s own payment system at an dev-operated back”
- PC: no limitations here
- Web apps: no limitations here
- iPhone: worse than Android, since with Android you can at least distribute your apps through other markets and run your own payment system
- Android: “lack of in-app micro-payments”
- PC: no limitations here, though I’m not aware of this model being used much outside of games, at least for purchasing stuff from the app developer
- Web apps: same as PC, though probably a bit more widely used
- iPhone: recently added feature, haven’t heard good or bad about it yet
- Android: “Google releasing apps, squashing independent devs in the process”
- PC: same as Android in principle, though in practice Google seems to do less for the desktop
- Web apps: worse than Android, since Google tends to do Web first and mobile second
- iPhone: same as Android (some apps are Android-only, counterbalanced by some apps being made for iPhone first)
Now, I look at that roster of “grievances” and I do not see how Android is dramatically worse than other likely options. Some of these can be dealt with by individual developers (e.g., worried about piracy? use DRM). Some of these are intrinsic to mobile (e.g., others are more bullish about ad-sponsored apps than I am). Android can certainly be better, but IMHO it is not terribly worse than the alternatives.
What some developers seem to forget is that selling apps and making money is hard work. Not everyone succeeds. Even in land-rush scenarios like the iPhone App Store launch, there are winners and losers, and those scenarios don’t last forever (e.g., the iPhone land rush is long since over).
So long as Android developers remain fixated on selling individual apps to individual users via an individual market, those developers will need to do lots of outside marketing, to make sure their target audience knows about the app. The Android ecosystem could use a bit more help in this area, of course. And, as I pointed out in a recent blog post series, there are other ways of making money than selling individual apps to individual users via an individual market.
But if you think selling for Android is bad, try writing a Windows app, uploading it to just one Web site, doing no other marketing…and see how many copies you sell there.