September 21, 2008 |
There’s been quite some talk around the blogosphere and mainstream over the weekend related to Apple’s iPhone App Store – the good and the bad sides, prospects it offers to applications developers and alternative ways for developers to distribute their apps when not admitted by Apple. And since the next week will be sure to become the week of big Android news with Tuesday’s T-Mobile announcement I have decided to summarize a few conclusions we can arrive to after a few month of Apple operating its App Store under scrutiny by users and blogosphere.
Hopefully these conclusions will guide Google to a certain extent when making the final decisions on how Android apps marketplace will perform not to repeat Apple’s mistakes and make the marketplace a good distribution platform both for developers and consumers.
1. Vetting system
It is well known that Apple has the right to admit (or not to admit) applications into the store and the final say may prevent even rather useful applications from appearing in the store. At the same time we have seen examples of absolutely stupid applications (the I Am Rich $1,000 application is probably the best-known example) that do nothing valuable at all but still somehow make it to the store.
The first information available about Google’s Android marketplace makes it clear that Google is planning to make the marketplace open for all developers to submit their applications. And while this sounds like a reasonable approach, it is also obvious that it will result in a good number of low-quality apps available. So I think the right approach should be combining the open marketplace approach with a system where users will be able to report malware or otherwise abusing applications and voting on the best applications for them to be better ranked in the store – at the same time without making it difficult for newly launched applications to be noticed by users.
2. Ability to evaluate the app before buying
Apple App Store and iTunes do not provide any screenshots or video demo for what a user should expect when downloading a particular application for his iPhone (UPDATE: As noted in a comment below, screenshots are available for applications if developers choose to upload them – thought the way one can access the screenshots is not entirely evident. I guess I have just been unlucky with the apps that I browsed myself.). At that the majority of applications available come at a price – which means that a user is supposed to make a buying decision without even knowing what it is he is buying – unless he will be able to find some additional information on the developer’s website.
I believe a functionality to let potential users evaluate the applications before buying should be a must-have feature for Android marketplace. While it is not actually necessary at the launch date when all the applications submitted are free, when developers receive the functionality to charge for their applications distributed via the marketplace, potential buyers should be able to see some additional information about the app they are buying.
3. Tolerating competition
The blogosphere was abuzz over Apple blocking the Podcaster application that allows user to download podcasts directly from Apple store without using iTunes. Now we also see another application – MailWrangler – rejected from the store for allegedly repeating functionality of iPhone’s own Mail.app. MailWrangler allows users to track multiple Gmail accounts and has a richer feature set when compared to the default Apple’s application – which is quite obvious to everyone right after reading the description of the app – and that makes Apple’s decision even more dubious.
While it is obvious that Google will no doubt want as many of Google’s own applications installed on mobile devices as possible – simply because we have all the rights to suspect the main purpose for Android platform is to push Google’s ads to as many mobile users as possible. But if Google ever puts obstacles in way of applications that could be viewed as competing to its own, it will be a move that will seriously damage all the developers that may want to submit their applications for Android to Google’s marketplace.
Similarly, there should be no preferences in the marketplace for applications created by Google or third-party applications monetized with Google AdSense – only such an approach will make the marketplace a platform for fair competition and will result in developers eagerly investing their time and efforts into creating applications, even if potentially competing with Google and in some cases offering a better functionality.
But if we see any preferences at all, it will seriously damage the marketplace and may very well prevent developers from working on application that could otherwise be very much appreciated by Android handhelds users. So if Google is really planning an open system of distribution, it should actually be made open and transparent.
4. Creating a content ecosystem
What is remarkable about Apple App Store and iTunes used to purchase and download applications, is that Apple has really managed to build a real ecosystem where a user of any Apple device can find tons of things he may be willing to buy – from music to iPhone applications. If Google wants to repeat the success, they will need not to focus on apps for the Android platform only – they will need to add further content that users will be able to consume in the same place, this increasing the number of reasons for users to visit the marketplace. The idea is to make users stick to the marketplace for whatever reasons they may have and provoke some non-intentional purchases when users buy something they did not realize they actually needed but noticed when buying some other content.
Right now it is quite difficult to tell what could help Google grow the content of the marketplace in addition to YouTube videos (professionally produced content that is already on YouTube) and maybe some Picasa photos that photographers could be willing to sell. But I believe content partnerships for music, videos and specific mobile content (ringtones, wallpapers) to provide something useful to the users that will be unlikely to browse the marketplace if it only offered applications but could be very much more willing to if they were offered some entertainment content additionally.
It is quite obvious that upon release Google’s Android marketplace will only have the basic functionality and we will only see if some of the lessons learned from Apple will be implemented in further iterations of the marketplace and how Google will handle third-party applications when compared to Apple. After all, this may very well bring some loyal users or scare them away if done wrong.