August 21, 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.