Friday, 29 August 2008 05:42

Google goes to 'Android Market' in App Store challenge

We've seen how successful Apple's App Store has been as a conduit between developers with $US30 million in sales and 60 million downloads in the first month. Now Google aims to follow suit with the announcement of the Android Market. Why 'Market' rather than 'Store'?

Android is Google and friends' attempt at creating a world-beating mobile phone platform to challenge Symbian, WinMo, LiMo, iPhone and others for telecommunications and handheld computing supremacy, and the Androids are about to invade!

The first Android phone is tipped to arrive in mid-September - the HTC Dream G1 reportedly coming first to T-Mobile in the US - despite earlier reports suggesting a late 2008/early 2009 debut.

But getting the phone into people's hands is one thing, making it easy to find, download and install applications is another. Apple's success with the App Store - combined with some of the shortcomings observed by developers - has provided the Android team with a template.

Eric Chu, mobile platform program manager at Google, said "we feel that developers should have an open and unobstructed environment to make their content available."

The point being that - unlike Apple - Google does not intend to act as a gatekeeper for Android apps. Anyone will be able to register as a merchant and then upload programs and other types of content to the Android Market.

What's in store for Android Market? See page two.

The market will initially be a venue for free content, though support for paid items is promised. Other developments will include support for versioning, multiple device profiles, analytics and more.

"With the addition of a marketplace, the Android ecosystem is becoming even more robust," added Chu. "I am incredibly energized by the support and amazing content I've seen so far."

Such an arrangement will make it easier and quicker for developers to get new applications - and perhaps more importantly, updates delivering bug fixes - into the hands of users more quickly.

The downside of eliminating any screening process means there's no enforcement of user interface guidelines, no independent pre-release testing for security and privacy issues (not that Apple's App Store has a great record, having withdrawn at least one application on these grounds after initially approving it), and no independent testing for general quality.

However, the general software market seems to function quite well without any of those characteristics, so do we really need them for smartphone software? Maybe not.

But here's one prediction: when the Android Market starts handling paid content, be prepared for a raft of high-priced "I Am Rich" clones.

Call them markets, call them stores, such aggregated online outlets make life simple for developers, but they're no bed of roses. Read why on page three.

One issue with aggregated software distribution, whether it is the App Store or the Android Market, is that it largely mirrors physical distribution in one key respect: you only get prime shelf space if you're a top seller.

The problem is that this is self-reinforcing. Software that attracts initial interest gets on the 'most popular' list for that category, and so those items are the ones people see first when browsing. So they get downloaded more, which keeps them at the top of the list.

A similar effect occurs with web search (pages at the top of Google search results are more likely to be read and consequently linked to, which boosts their pagerank, cementing high placement in search results), blogging (early bloggers that managed to gain a good reputation were linked to more often by their peers, further increasing their readership, which boosted inbound links, and so on), and podcasting (to attract listeners, you need to get established podcasters to run your promos - but you'll probably have to run theirs in return, further boosting their status).

That's not to say quality won't win through eventually, just that despite early hopes, the Internet hasn't really made it any easier to overcome the 'first mover' advantage of a halfway decent competitor that beat you to the punch.

So if you dream of making a fortune from an Android application, consider that it will take a lot of effort to break through the background hubbub coming from all the other developers.

There's another challenge for would-be Android software moguls. Read about that, and tell us what you think about the Android Market on the final page.

Remember that those who were successful in round one of the Android Developer Challenge are already enjoying a time and money advantage, so you probably don't want to compete directly with them unless you're sure you can do a hugely better job.

But don't give up - there will be another $5 million up for grabs in round two once the first Android handsets go on sale.

So will you be welcoming your new Android overlords, or wary of them? And what about Google's Android Market? If it's very successful - as seems likely to be), will it impact on way Apple runs its App Store? Share your thoughts in the forums!

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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