Under immense pressure from users and developers, Google has recently announced some changes to Android Market. But this may turn not be enough. Even though sales for mobile phones with Google’s Android operating system are ramping up, developers find it hard to make money on that platform. A recent bombshell was a blog post from Larva Labs towards the end of August. Larva Labs’ average income for all Android paid applications was only $62.39 per day – and that included games that are ranked #5 and #12 in the Android Market. This is a tiny figure when compared to Apple’s App Store, where a #5 position earns around $3500 a day according to sales figures from app vendors.
If developers cannot make a profit from their Android offerings, they will turn away from the platform. As of today, the Google Android Market forums are full of gripes from android developers trying to sell their software. A common complaint is about the way that applications are displayed in the Android Market. Up to now, developers could not post screen shots and were limited to a 325 character description of their program. Google has since announced that this limitation would be lifted in version 1.6 of the Android platform, which has been released recently.
Another frequent complaint is that Android users from many countries cannot buy applications at all. Users from other countries cannot even access free applications through the Android Market. Nor can developers in many countries sell their applications – instead, they are forced to hold them back or offer them for free. The only “supported” countries for paid applications are Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, US, and UK and (since very recently) Italy. Users from those countries can buy applications, and developers from those countries (plus Japan) can sell applications.
That leaves many users and developers standing in the rain. Google is aware of the problem and states that it is “working hard” on this issue, but users are not convinced. Some of them are livid: “Who is sleeping behind his desk [at Google]” an angry Swiss user demands to know who has bought an Android handset just to find out that he cannot buy applications. Others are clueless: “Nokia doesn’t restrict countries with Ovistore [the equivalent of the Android Market for Nokia's phones]. This is so unlike Google. Why are they punishing us for investing into their platform?” asks a Swedish game developer.
In the last two months, only one new “supported country” for paid applications has been added: Italy. This slow pace is hurting Google’s image in many countries, as handsets are being offered in countries but users effectively shut out of the Android market. But an even more serious side effect is starting to show: piracy. As users have no way to legally buy applications that they want, some are turning to illegal Android distribution sites, which are proliferating on the Internet.
The discussion forums are buzzing with developers complaining to be shut out. Others (from “supported” countries) are offering to resell applications from those that are shut out of the Market because of their location. Alternative distribution channels are also under discussion, but many developers believe that these pale in comparison with native market applications such as Apple’s App Store that come with the handsets.
But Google is aware of the problem. When asked, a Google spokesperson replied: “We’ll add support for additional countries in the coming months, but we have nothing to announce at this time”. Until then, many developers will need to make a difficult decision on whether they can make money on the Android platform.