Yesterday, Google officially passed the 100,000 mark for applications available on its Android Market, Electronista reports. The feat is quite impressive, considering it’s been only two years since the now dominant OS launched, and only six months since hitting the 50,000 app mark. That means that the Android market has doubled its offerings in the last half-year alone.
Even The New York Times has taken notice of Android’s tremendous growth, highlighting the market in a tech piece that appeared in yesterday’s print version. While NYT profiles how the market has grown quickly, the piece also cites some of the issues that have plagued the platform, which is still behind Apple’s in total apps available (250,000 in the Apple App Store). For one, the Android market is not quite as lucrative as the app store, because users are required to pay for apps through Google Checkout rather than a more common payment system, like PayPal, or by being billed through their carrier. This makes developers more apt to support their applications with advertisements, while the apps themselves are free.
“It’s not the best impulse-buy environment,” developer Matt Hall told NYT. “It’s hard to think of an application that you would sit there and put your credit card information in for.”
Andy Rubin, Google’s vice president of engineering, said that despite it being “version 1.0 of the ecosystem,” there are currently more than 270,000 developers writing software for Android.
But NYT also points out — as many commenters here on Global Tech News and elsewhere have already done — that Android’s fragmentation, while helping the platform spring to smartphone ubiquity thanks to its open-source nature, is also its greatest weakness. Unlike Windows Phone 7, which requires minimal hardware specs and demands a degree of uniformity across carriers, Android OS is available on dozens of devices that range in size, form factor, speed, memory, resolution, etc. Then there are the third-party skins and bloatware (can someone say “MOTOBLUR”?) that are overlaid on top of the proprietary OS, designed to differentiate devices from one another, but which only add to the degree of fragmentation. Not to mention that only a third of Android devices are running the latest version, 2.2 “Froyo,” while the rest are stuck in Android purgatory, waiting to be upgraded to a snappier version, or left to rot in Eclair hell.
“It’s so fragmented,” another developer told NYT. “It’s a lot more challenging than developing for one device, like the iPhone.”
In fact, developers must take extra steps to make sure that an app that works on, say, a Motorola Droid X, works just as well on a Samsung Galaxy S variant. This leads to more work and longer development times.
But there is also the issue of freedom. Developers aren’t at the mercy of a single entity telling them what they can and can’t include. While Apple has total control of what apps it deems worthy for its store, the Android Market isn’t directly regulated by Google. A developer may work for months on an app, only to be denied by Apple. With Android, there is a quicker satisfaction because an app can be launched immediately. Its success hinges on how well it is embraced by the users, not whether some tester at a multi-national corporation thinks it’s worthwhile.
Google is reportedly working on a way for developers to charge for transactions within an app. For example: In the future, you may be able to download a side-scrolling adventure game, but you’ll have to pay an additional dollar to unlock the last three levels. This will give developers the chance to make a heftier profit, which many aren’t making much of in the current market thanks to the expectation users have of everything Google offering being free (though the tech company itself is raking in the dough). We should see soon whether the additional purchase-within-an-app functionality is part of Android 3.0 “Gingerbread,” or if it’s slated for a later iteration of the OS.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is making a major push to try to recapture a piece of the smartphone market with its new OS, and Apple’s iPhone may get a boost when — and if — it becomes available through Verizon. But Rubin, who is also Android’s main architect, remains positive: “The promise of Android goes beyond one device,” he told NYT. “We’re going to see products running Android that no one has ever envisioned possible.”
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