Is Google Serious About Paid Apps for Android?

Recently I’ve been working on an application for the Google Android platform and the experience has been interesting.  Google’s application market appears to be response to Apple’s success with the iPhone market rather than an organic expression of Google’s strategy or culture.  The result is an implementation that feels bolted onto Android and  provides tepid value to independent application developers.  In support of my assertion are the following facts:

The recent introduction of Skype on iPhone but only limited distribution on Android because of carrier agreements highlights the differences in strategy between Apple and Google.  Whereas Apple has limited itself to one carrier who has to accept Apple’s applications, Google is giving carriers veto power over applications in an effort to sign up as a many mobile carriers as possible.

Google’s delayed introduction of paid applications in the Android Market combined with keeping 33% (30% of sales plus credit charges) suggest that it simply copied Apple’s fee structure.  The problem with this method is that they haven’t copied the rest of Apple’s strategy.

Fortunately I’m not an attorney, but my interpretation of the Google Search API Terms of Use prevents using the AJAX API in paid applications.  Specifically, the terms include the following statement:

1.3 Appropriate Conduct and Prohibited Uses. The Service may be used only for services that are accessible to your end users without charge

Preventing the use of search APIs in this manner makes perfect sense if your business is selling advertising, but not if you’re trying to make money by selling applications.  The restriction begs the question: What are application developers getting for Google’s 1/3?

Another issue is Google’s web pages for the Android Market don’t provide any information about applications, other than featured ones.  The only way for potential customers to find out about new applications in the Android Market is via the phone’s Market application.  If the plan is to drive users to the phone based on application availability, than Google should make that information available via the publicly accessible pages.

A quick perusal of Apple’s web site shows that they offer direct assistance “with  one of our Apple Experts who specializes in your exact question.”  While my experience of Apple support is that they are a bit dodgy, at least Apple is offering support directly to iPhone users via the stores and their support organization.   Google has no end user support organization and does everything earthly to avoid interacting directly with a customer.

All of this adds up to a bad value for independent application developers who rely on selling their applications to fund their business.  Indeed, one may argue that Google has structured paid applications in this fashion in order to push developers to an advertising based model.  I don’t believe this is a deliberate decision, but rather an expression of Google’s existing organization, culture, and business practices.    While being successful in paid applications is irrelevant to Google’s revenue, a vibrant application environment is necessary to make the Android platform successful.

Google needs to figure out how to provide more value to independent application developers if they want a vibrant Android platform.

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