Android Development: The App Makers Still Cannot Make Money

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Developing for Android is rough. Sure, it’s a huge, surging market that is quickly overtaking the smartphone industry. That’s all good, and it means money for Google, cellphone carriers and the device manufacturers. However, the developers are still hurting in the end, this despite the rising popularity of the Android OS.

Let’s take a look at why Android development is a tough business to get into: 

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1) The Payments Are Still a Pain – We, as well as many others, have hammered on about this one in the past. But there’s good reason for that. It’s because it hasn’t gotten any better. There is no truly efficient way to pay for your Android Apps. Many are available on the Android Market, others through developer websites, and so on. What this makes is a situation in which developers don’t always have a proper means of distribution, and promotion may also be tough to come across.

Compare this to the design of the App Store. Despite the annoyingly tight restrictions set by Apple, it’s hard to deny that developers can find success here. We’ve seen it many times in the past, and we will continue to see it. This is because many users already have an Apple ID, and some have had it for almost ten years. Users are already comfortable with a purchase knowing that Apple is the only party they have to give their credit card number to. Combined with 99-cent purchases, it’s a perfect storm for impulse purchases.

Even as recently as June of this year, we’ve heard of users having problems with the Android Market. Some Apps weren’t showing up amongst other things, and Google apologized for the problem soon after they were able to resolve it. 

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2) Purchase Choices Have Become Fragmented – Because of the payment systems, the way users purchase their apps has become fragmented. We remember a while back hearing about users being able to pay for Apps directly through their carrier billing. Yeah, that sounded like a mess. Meanwhile, outlets like Amazon have launched their own Android App Stores as well. More places to buy your Apps sounds like a good thing, until you realize that some users actually have no idea where to buy the Apps, because the distribution method has become so fragmented. 


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3) Android Devices Are O’Plenty – This initially sounds like a good thing. Because Android is available to any device manufacturer who wants it, you’d think it means more chances to sell, right? Well, that much is true, but the catch is this: Developers may not know what they are creating software for. Because Android OS can come on a variety of devices, many with an array of different specs, it’s impossible for a developer to know exactly who or under what conditions someone may use their application. A game running on that EVO may not work well on your Droid. There is very different hardware running across the phones equipped with Android, and many of those, as well as the software that shipped on the phone comes into account.

Here’s a quote by developer Steve Demeter, who created Trism for the iPhone, “Do I want to be spending 6 months to write the game, and another 6 months making if compatible? If I had Trism available for Android, and there are 50 Android devices and every time one of them crashes (the users) contact me, do I want that?” Though the quote is a little more than two years old, it still holds very true (in fact, more so) today.

Meanwhile when you develop on an iOS device, you have a very specific range of hardware specs to work with. 

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4) To Users, Google Often Means ‘Free’ – Many of the services provided by Google are free. That goes for their email client, their OS and their applications. Matt Hall, co-founder of mobile developer Larva Labs, recently went on the record as saying, “Google is not associated with things you pay for, and Android is an extension of that. You don’t pay for Google apps, so it bleeds into the expectations for the third-party apps, too.” Because users are used to getting things for free, it’s hard to find a way to charge them. This creates a vicious cycle of more apps being released for free for that very reason, furthering expectations of free software.  

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5) Paid Apps for Android Are Only Available in 32 countries, 90 for App Store – The New York Times pointed out this bit of information. This was said to be part of why developer Rovio, famous for Angry Birds, chose to go with a free, ad-supported app for Android. There was concern for Rovio that people who were not able to purchase the game would simply pirate it. The App Store sells software across 90 countries, making for many more opportunities to sell.

Will It Get Better?

Google has said that they are working on ways to improve how purchased apps are paid for. This would allow developers to make more money as well as increase popularity of the Android Store. Currently, it’s difficult to commit to developing on a limited budget if there is very little chance of making a profit. As it is, it’s difficult to succeed on Apple’s App Store, that difficulty is only amplified with Android applications.

Right now, Google should be working to improve that aspect if they hope to keep app makers interested in their platform, in turn, making users interested in what Android has to offer. We will see where Google takes distribution from here.

Currently, there are over 100,000 applications available through the Android Market, so there is definitely still an interest. The question is, how lon before developers are fed up?


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