This 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. Yesterday, we examined other sorts of products that you could create that tie into Android. Today, we wrap up the series with a discussion of different types of services that should have value in the Android ecosystem.
Model #29: Custom Application Development
Many firms want to get into Android but are not in position to hire full-time Android developers and lack any in-house Android expertise. These firms are in need of consultants who can build Android applications — perhaps as “ports” of applications written for other mobile platforms — quickly and inexpensively.
The challenge here is in demonstrating and promoting your Android development prowess. In particular, due to the lack of a high-profile Android job board (see Model #24), you may have to scramble a bit to find opportunities.
To demonstrate your prowess, write and distribute quality Android applications, even if you do not make much money from them directly. Or, write an Android book (or three).
Model #30: Device-Based Testing
Compared to iPhone, Android will have a dizzying array of devices, each with different characteristics. While services like DeviceAnywhere will help a bit with that sort of problem, not all applications can be tested virtually, particularly if they are rather dependent upon hardware features like the accelerometer.
One service to sell into this niche is simply an application testing service: you invest in a large number of devices and you sell your expertise in testing applications on those devices and reporting back issues (along with suggested ways to address them).
Another possible service to sell into this niche would be some sort of equipment rental program. Imagine a Netflix of Android devices: subscribers pay an annual fee and can borrow as many devices as they want, one (or perhaps two) at a time. As with Netflix, you could charge more for more simultaneously-held devices. This would require a fair bit more equipment, plus handling time to factory reset each device when it is returned. However, the business is much more scaleable than “simply” an app testing service.
Model #31: Internationalization and Localization
Android devices are sold around the world, and Android supports an increasing number of locales. That does not help much if apps are all written in English. If you are multilingual, and even better if you can build a team covering many languages, you could offer a service to help developers translate their strings to other locales, plus offer other tips for i18n and l10n (e.g., string widths, icons that are implicitly locale-specific).
Model #32: Bug Hunter
There are literally thousands of reported issues with Android, and while some of them may not be truly relevant, many are. However, the core Android team only has so much time to devote to these issues, and device manufacturers may focus their efforts solely on what their devices need.
If you can work out a crowdfunding strategy — getting smaller sums from a larger number of people — you might be able to finance addressing those issues. Knowing how to raise these sorts of funds is one challenge; the other is in knowing how to fix such things and get them approved for inclusion in future Android releases.
Model #33: User Experience Designer
I have received several comments that Android apps just don’t look as nice as their iPhone counterparts. While I think some of that is residual “reality distortion field” that ships on the iPhone, there is little doubt in my mind that many Android applications lack polish from a UI standpoint. There is a skill and knack for designing good mobile interfaces, and many Android developers (such as myself) lack those things.
If you know how to design “sexy” Android UIs, and can demonstrate it via a portfolio of products, there should be a market for your services.
Model #34: JAR Porter
There are many existing Java code libraries that might be useful for Android applications. Some work unmodified. Many, though, would need rework to adapt to the Android subset of the JavaSE class library.
Similar to the “bug hunter” scenario, you may be able to crowdfund work to create Android-ready versions of these JARs. For example, I suspect you could raise enough money to create a quality SMTP client library, or SOAP client library, based upon the number of times those are asked for on the Android Google Groups.
Model #35: API Wrapper
Similarly, there are many Web services, or Web sites lacking formal Web services, that might be useful for Android apps. But, if nobody has written a Java JAR to access those services, those services are unavailable to Android, or at least everyone has to “reinvent the wheel”. Once again, if you can work out a crowdfunding strategy, you may be able to earn some business helping to make these sorts of APIs “Android-ready”.
Model #36: App Promoter
Many Android developers are coders first and foremost and lack marketing skills or experience. If you have demonstrated the ability to get people to notice your apps, you may be able to sell those skills as a service to others. You would help maximize distribution (e.g., ensure the app is in all relevant markets), work to get the apps reviewed, work the social media, etc.
Model #37: App Market Agent
Many Android developers live in countries where they are unable to distribute paid applications through the Android Market. Countries are added to the Android Market roster sporadically, leaving many markets underserved. You could create a business that serves as the “local distributor” for such applications, in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. Particularly if you can combine this with app promotion skills (see Model #36), you may be able to earn a solid reputation. By adding more services than simply the agency model, you may even be able to keep customers after their home countries are added to the Android Market distribution list.
Model #38: Device Marketer
Certainly, there is a place for resellers of devices outside of the mobile carriers, as there are some firms already doing that. However, you might be able to think of a different angle (e.g., promoting devices that can be rooted), or can offer better pricing, or think you can work relevant communities to drive more business.
Model #39: Trainer
Firms interested in building up in-house Android development talent may be interested in training, either to send 1-2 people out to a public course or to bring a trainer in to train a team. While there are firms offering Android application development training today, there is still room, particularly if you can target languages other than English. And there appears to be a big opening for people able to train others on firmware and NDK development.
Model #40: Break Outside the Box
To be honest, many of the 39 other models presented here are “ordinary”. A few take advantage of Android-specific niches, and others leverage up-and-coming financing approaches (e.g., crowdfunding). As a result, while you can probably build a decent business out of these models, you are unlikely to “strike it rich”…unless you come up with something totally innovative.
Whatever the innovative strategy is, odds are it is not purely an Android model. Rather, Android and mobile in general may be a key part of the business, but the overall strategy probably needs to think beyond today’s technology. After all, who ten years ago would have expected Android, or netbooks, or cloud computing?
The moral of this series of posts, though, is that tossing an Android app onto the Market may be a good idea, but it is not the only way to make money from Android, and anyone who puts all their eggs in the Android Market basket better be good at making omelettes.
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.