Most of the attention this week has been on Steve Jobs’s stinging attack on the Android platform. In his five minute rant, he called Google’s whole “open versus closed” argument a smokescreen for the true issue: “fragmented versus integrated.”
While fragmentation is a definite issue with the Android platform, another reared its head just three days prior to Jobs’s outburst. It hasn’t received the same attention, but it’s equally troubling - one of the most popular apps of recent times bypassed Google’s official Market for its Android debut.
I’m referring, of course, to Angry Birds. Having sold around seven million copies on iPhone, attracting celebrity fans and critical acclaim along the way, its arrival on Android should have been a major boost for the much maligned Google app store.
It’s safe to say that no one foresaw Rovio’s decision to snub Android Market (initially at least) in favour of the independent app store GetJar. Yet according to Rovio’s Peter Vesterbacka, "selecting GetJar as the place to launch our first ever full Android version of Angry Birds was an obvious choice."
What looks initially to be typical press release waffle is in fact a damning indictment of Google’s Android Market. If its own official retail channel is not seen as the “obvious choice” for a major app developer, something needs to be done to make it so – and fast.
Perhaps, in hindsight, we shouldn’t have been so surprised at Rovio’s gutsy move. The signs of general dissatisfaction with Android Market have been there for all to see since its launch.
Put bluntly, Android Market is an absolute mess. The navigation experience is blighted by a poor filter system that makes it very hard indeed to hone in on quality paid software. Dubious free ringtone and porn apps clog up the Multimedia, Entertainment, and even Games categories.
As the Pocket Gamer team member who keeps an eye on new Android game releases, I can’t begin to tell you how annoying it is that there’s no way to filter for new paid games. New games, yes. Paid games, yes. New paid games, no.
Android developers face more pressing problems than a poor navigation experience, however. Back in June, well known Norwegian programmer Jon Lech Johansen wrote a blog entry entitled “Google’s mismanagement of the Android Market.” Among the faults that he pointed out, he noted that:
“While the Android Market is available in 46 countries, developers can only offer paid apps in 13 countries.” This would perhaps explain why Rovio highlighted "GetJar's global reach” as a major reason for its decision.
Johansen added, “the price for foreign apps is not displayed in the user’s local currency and developers do not have the option of customizing pricing by country.”
While some of the issues blighting Android Market have been addressed in the four months since this blog post was written, the fact remains that the Android Market in its current form is part of the problem rather than the solution.
Rip it up and start again
Several companies are attempting to solve this problem with Android app stores of their own. In his rare Apple earnings call appearance, Steve Jobs raised the point that Amazon, Vodaphone and US operator Verizon had all announced their own Android app stores. A sign of an open, healthy platform, or a vote of no confidence in Google’s own app store solution?
Android is a fine platform in many respects, and its uniquely open nature and solid performance is why so many people are predicting that it will be the dominant smartphone platform in the coming years.
There’s a reason Jobs wasted five minutes of his precious time ranting about Android – the man knows a dangerous rival when he sees one (how much would Microsoft have liked such attention around its Windows Phone 7 launch, I wonder).
But the platform is hampered at a critical point – the point at which customers download additional content for their phones. Or, to put it another way, the point at which they continue to part with their cash.
Time to rip it up and start again, Google.