November 24, 2014

Android Market Matters

broken_android_marketGameLoft’s recent (and strangely public) announcement that they will be withdrawing resources from Android-based game development has surprised much of the Android community. The fact that a major software house would begin to shun the Android platform, at the same time that handset manufacturers are rolling out Android handsets-o’-plenty, doesn’t immediately reconcile. That is, unless you’re someone who doesn’t live and breathe Android …

This is a difficult piece for me to write, because I DO live and breathe Android. However, I also understand that commercial firms can’t make their payrolls based off of warm and fuzzy comments from the Android Market. They have to SELL SOFTWARE. Something the Android Market is not really facilitating at this time.

I’ve been saving up observations for this article for months now, and what follows is, in my humble opinion, the major contributing factors to the commercially-challenged Android Market.

App Visibility – It’s been said thousands of times, but Google needs to take ownership of the search issues of the Android Market and FIX THEM ! And, while you’re at it Google, give us a web front-end to peruse the thousands of Android Market apps. And, when you’re done with that, please make sure anyone with an Android device can actually purchase Android applications.

App Classification – Something has to be done to allow users to browse the newest apps by genre. It’s almost worthless to look at the current category of “newest apps” because it is completely dominated by themes. Google, get themes into their own gargantuan sieve so real applications can be seen! Additionally, please create a classification/flag for web front-ends so people don’t get ripped off expecting self-contained applications.

App Pricing (Part I) – This is a big one. So, let’s dive right in with the classic free vs. paid app issue. Free applications have a place in any platform. Hobbyists, professional wanna-bes, organizations, etc. need an avenue to distribute apps that either don’t quite reach the professional level yet, or just don’t have a compelling reason to be distributed commercially. However, what should NOT be included in this category are apps with built in advertising models, 30 day trials and the like. If something is advertised as free, it should be able to be enjoyed for free, or it should be called something else. It shouldn’t be a trick to get you to buy something.

App Pricing (Part II) – Paid apps need to find a price level that will allow professional developers to create applications that will exploit the power and innovation that is baked into the Android platform. And, while I enjoy the current hobbyist-subsidized pricing model as much as the next person, left unabated, it will destroy the platform. Technologically superior platforms die every day due to insufficient third party offerings (i.e. BetaMax vs. VHS, Intellivision vs. Atari, etc.). And believe it or not, hobbyists will eventually tire of trading their family/personal/leisure time for the occasional admiration of the Android community; when that happens, who will support the app you have come to rely upon?

App Pricing (Part III) – The only way the Android platform will grow and flourish (beyond it’s initial hype) is with third party applications selling at a price that keeps third parties interested in the platform (like GameLoft). Now, I don’t know much about GameLoft or the quality of their games, because I’m not much of a gamer anymore, BUT it hasn’t been very long since I was buying applications for my Palm T5–and none of them were $1.99. For the most part, the Palm applications I purchased were of a quality and stability that dwarfs many of the Android apps at this time. And there was an expectation that support for those Palm platform apps would be professional, courteous, and, prompt. Face it, professional quality apps mean that people have to be able to be professionally employed to develop, market, and support them. There are no shortcuts.

App Pricing (Finale) – The last point on Android application pricing deals with the notion of comparative value. If you are so inclined, how much did you spend today on your mocha, cream topped, half-caff, wake-me-up elixir ? How much did you spend yesterday at your company’s vendo-land? Or, how much did even one of those happy hour mugs set you back last Friday night? Chances are, the answer to any of those questions is greater than the price tag of 99% of the applications available on the Android Market today. While any of the aforementioned splurges are just hours away from the public sewer system, any decent Android app will be useful for months, or even years, from now. The argument for $1.99 Android applications is rambling and weak.

So, in closing, I’ll share with you one of the few college concepts that survived my Friday night happy hours … TANSTAFL. There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Lunch, or in this case, Android application.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/DarrenRichie DarrenRichie

    Good article. I hate having to wade through countless themes, soundboards, backgrounds and other repetitive applications to find some decent ones. It has actually put me off from searching the market myself and instead getting recommendations from other sources.

  • meyergirl

    I would actually like to sort through apps in a category based on the number of stars it has.

  • http://android.rabold.org André

    Fully agree on this article. The only way to get significant download numbers is by being within the top 50 apps and games or getting featured by Google. The "newest apps" section has been rendered nearly useless by themes and M STAR LLC calculators. Publishing an update of my own game Puzzle Blox starts to not have any significant impact anymore as it had before.

    — André
    http://android.rabold.org

  • http://www.polyclefsoftware.com Derek

    I agree with the point about the desperate need for better searchability, in particular the need for an official desktop client.

    I'm gonna have to disagree with the idea that free, ad-supported apps should be partitioned into their own category. It's not a "trick". If the user downloads an app and doesn't like the fact that it has ads, just uninstall. The app *is* free, and ads right now are one of the more viable ways for devs to monetize on Android. Putting them in their own category would unnecessarily complicate things.

  • ari-free

    The model of sell an app for $1, sell to lots of people may make some devs rich if the apps are simple and don't require support. But I'm really tired of those gimmicky apps. Android needs more apps but despite the "100,000 apps for iPhone", the apps that I'm really interested in were originally developed for Palm and WinMo.

  • http://jagochmineee.blogspot.com Mats

    Google failing to make paid apps available in the Market for a region, the minute an Android phone is officially sold in that region, only irritates, and turns the phone owners to "alternative distribution channels" for non free apps. Once used to said channels, the users are hard to force back "in line" to the official channel. Sweden is still left out from accessing paid apps in Market, despite > 6 months of official distribution of Android phones.

  • http://twitter.com/mmark27 @mmark27

    I can't stand the themes and ring clips. They definitely need to get moved to their own section.

  • kbaxreno

    I agree in the case of ad supported apps, but free for 30 days is not free, it is a trial. Trial apps should be in a trial section.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chuckfalzone Chuck Falzone

    But why is that a problem?

    • http://jagochmineee.blogspot.com Mats

      The problem? You start an account with ppcwarez to get hold of the paid apps Market wont let you access. Once the customer gets used to the notion that all apps can be had for free, going back to Market and BUY stuff (even if it's only a buck or 2) makes no sense.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chuckfalzone Chuck Falzone

    Wow, we are coming from different perspectives– I see many of these issues as coming from an attempt to use the Market as The One True App Store rather than as a means of distributing software (among other means) on an open platform (in more detail: http://j.mp/5kfwmI )

    That said, I'd love to see functionality to filter out certain categories/developers/apps that I'm not interested in.

    To your specific points, tho:

    App Visibility – The search is broken, but a direct link to the apk in the market will get users there every time. It's the responsibility of developers to market their apps.

    "App Classification – Something has to be done to allow users to browse the newest apps by genre." You can tap into a category and hit "Just in," but I take yr point– the categories are too broad as is. Better to allow devs to tag their apps as they see fit than squeeze them into top-down categories.

    "App Pricing (Part I) … Free applications have a place in any platform. … However, what should NOT be included in this category are apps with built in advertising models, 30 day trials and the like." I couldn't disagree more with this point. Why would you want to cut down the variety of ways that developers can monetize their apps? Free to users but ad supported is acceptable nearly everywhere– websites, print publications, tv, radio… but not in apps? As for free trials, in-app purchases, free apps for paid services, these are all wonderful models that we should celebrate to encourage more app development, not something we should squash.

    App Pricing (Part II), (Part III) and (Finale) – These all seem to be the same complaint– that apps are too cheap. I don't see an issue here. Developers can charge whatever they want, no? It's their business decision as far as what they think the market will bear. If developers create value and market their products well, consumers will pay for it.

  • http://android.rabold.org André

    Fully agree on this article. The only way to get significant download numbers is by being within the top 50 apps and games or getting featured by Google. The "newest apps" section has been rendered nearly useless by themes and M STAR LLC calculators. Publishing an update of my own game Puzzle Blox starts to not have any significant impact anymore as it had before.

  • http://www.andrudes.com Todd A

    @Chuck Falzone – "I couldn't disagree more with this point. Why would you want to cut down the variety of ways that developers can monetize their apps?" …. I hope there is some atrocity somewhere that you could find even MORE offensive than points in an opinion article (puppy mills, maybe ?) …. that being said, any kind of legal monetization is cool …. just call it what it is upfront.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/chuckfalzone Chuck Falzone

      I did get a little hyperbolic… too much coffee, I suppose.

      • http://www.andrudes.com Todd A

        +1 for caffeine ! It's all good …

  • jaam

    While I agree with many of your points – perhaps you also should have taken a look at the quality of games that gamesloft was putting out – extremely poor ports of their current games – definitely not worth the price – I don't think that helps either situation. Their line up includes nothing new, nothing that takes advantage of the Droid's abilities or the touch screen (like games using drawing on the screen and accelerators to control the game), and some don't even work properly – defintely not worth the 2.99 they are often charging.

    i have bought quite a few games and apps now – ones that are a joy to use and take advantage of the sytem – and in a lot of cases they are proabably too expensive – cause as the Apple market has found the sweet spot is 0.99 –> but then the apple market is quite a few months ahead of the android market – perhaps when they are similar sizes it will hold true.

    PS – would also love the devs to have more characters, so they can describe games better.

  • http://twitter.com/baycruisers @baycruisers

    Well said. I have no problem spending $1.99 for an app and then perhaps finding out that it isn't really what I wanted or fails to meet my expectations. However, I think the PC/Shareware model was a viable one and actually helped create some outstanding applications over the past 10-12 years. If we could download and try an app for 10-30 days, after which it would expire and lock up without an activation code, we might see developers willing to put more time and effort into their products in exchange for a higher cost per app. I too remember spending $30 for a Palm app, and would be willing to do so again if it was a critical application that was stable, mature and functional.

  • Brian Goodyear

    I agree totally that if you are going to release the phone Paid Apps should be available immediately. Here in Canada, paid apps are still not available in the Android Marketplace.

  • anonymous

    "However, what should NOT be included in this category are apps with built in advertising models, 30 day trials and the like. If something is advertised as free, it should be able to be enjoyed for free, or it should be called something else. It shouldn’t be a trick to get you to buy something"

    What do mean by advertising models? I hope you don't mean integrated ads like admob. In my opinion these are fair free apps like every free flash game got some ads inside.

  • jake

    I think the $1 app is started by the iPhone (which works on that model because of the relatively huge install base) and people who know about that expect the same for Android even if it's not enough to support developers at the current install base of Android. I don't think Google really has much control over this issue.

    But on the comments about search-ability of the Market and having an online browser for apps, I totally agree. I think the way the Market is done is pathetic from a search and browsing standpoint, and given Google started as and is most well known for being a SEARCH company, this is completely inexcusable.

  • http://www.productiveorganizer.com kyith

    i will pay 1-10 bucks for a good application and not some crappy software. and i agree with what most posters and the article writer says. I want a good app but does it exist? i have to spend such a long time searching for an app and i am a geek. imagine what those non-fanboys have to go through. this can be said of windows mobile as well.

    i truely believe that you need to have some very probably monetary incentive for people to brainstorm and come up with good software.

    Take the case of a PDF reader. iPhone have this software called AirSync that dominates initially, but when priced at 4.99 someone sees potential to improve and sell more by volumes and you see alot of either free and 0.99 cents pdf readers. Out of all of them one 0.99 cent pdf reader called good sync did so much better than the others that it is now rated one of the best and cost effective software out there.

    Good Reader>>
    http://www.productiveorganizer.com/productivity-m

  • http://twitter.com/divestoclimb @divestoclimb

    What they should do with the themes and add-ons is come up with a spec that the developer can add to the apk's manifest that says "this APK requires com.xyz.abc to work". Then when browsing, apps that require an app that you don't have installed won't appear. All apps should still show up in searches though, even if they require an app you don't have, but on the detail screen it should link to the app's dependencies.

  • https://muhammadf0628.student.ipb.ac.id cuppy

    we still need improvement.. so go go developer..

  • http://www.ibankr.com/ sell a business

    I am glad to learn about the development that they will be withdrawing resources from Android-based game for the reasons they know best. I’ve enjoyed reading the interesting post.