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Last Updated: April 14th, 2011

Google's web-based Android Market announcement earlier this week was by all means no surprise to anyone - we've been waiting for it to arrive ever since its announcement at last year's Google I/O. In the meantime, alternative web-based markets, such as AppBrain.com, have skyrocketed in popularity because they allowed Android users to browse apps and games from their computers rather than being confined to their small phone screens. Even more importantly, alternative web markets had full control over app presentation, which allowed them to develop their own app discovery mechanisms.

AppBrain is probably the best example of such innovation - it combines easy-on-the-eye looks with functional app pages that don't look overbloated with ads, and their slicing and dicing of the Market using advanced filters goes way beyond Google's - it's simply excellent. AppBrain has a soul and is very much loved by the Android community, so as soon as the news of the official web Market hit on Wednesday, I reached out to Uwe Maurer, one of Appbrain founders, to get the answer to the "now what?" question we all have on our minds.

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Interview

Android Police: What prompted you to start Appbrain? Can you provide us with a brief history of the project? How big is the team and where is it based? How long did it take to create and launch the site?

Appbrain: We are two software engineers based in Zurich, Switzerland. In 2009 we developed a couple of quite successful Android apps (Funny Jokes, Steamy Windows etc). We also noticed that for a user it is really difficult to discover great apps in the market. There are so many new apps coming in everyday and not all of them are good. The Google market itself offers only very limited ways to discover new apps since the rankings rarely change. Also at that time it was not possible to easily install an app from the web to the phone.

We thought that we can make this better and started working on AppBrain in December 2009 and released the first version in February 2010. It made it really easy to find apps on the web and install them on the phone.

Android Police: From the time Appbrain was born to the present day, has it lived up to your expectations? Exceeded them?

Appbrain: The success of AppBrain exceeded our expectations by far. We got overwhelmed with positive feedback from our users and bloggers. We kept working on AppBrain full time since then, adding new features and improving app discovery.

Android Police: I'm sure you've foreseen Google's move and are probably surprised it took Google this long to release the web-based Android Market. It does navigation and presents information fairly well but isn't on the same level of content discovery compared to Appbrain (at least not yet).
So, this is probably the most important question of all: now what? What is going to happen to Appbrain? Are you going to change direction? Continue doing what you're doing?

Appbrain: Google announced this web based market back in May 2010 at the Google IO conference. We didn’t expect that it took them so long to release it. Surprisingly they did not add any new features compared to the demo which was shown about 9 months ago.

We are very optimistic about the future of AppBrain and we think that as a small team we can iterate much faster on interesting new features and stay ahead. Our plan is to continue improving AppBrain rapidly and remain the best place to go if you want to discover great apps on Android.

Android Police: What are some other advantages Appbrain still has over the official Android web Market?

Appbrain: We offer quite a lot more features compared to the Android web market. The features that make AppBrain unique are:

  • daily and weekly hot apps
  • personalized app recommendations
  • more app details like change history, referring articles and blogs about the app
  • interesting browse and filter options, like top apps per country, per demographic (age, gender), move2sd enabled, price reduced, etc.
  • filtering of ~50% of apps that are spam or otherwise low-quality
  • sharing of your entire app list
  • connecting with Facebook and Twitter to see what apps your friends have
  • embeddable widgets for your own blog
  • uninstalling apps, setting of wallpapers and pushing URLs to your phone

For developers we also offer many features that are not available by Google:

  • detailed aggregated statistics about the users of your app (stats about devices, android versions, gender and age distribution of the users)
  • app promotion tools to increase installs

Android Police: Appbrain's Fast Web Installer was a very handy way to install apps while browsing Appbrain.com. How did you come up with this approach? As far as I understand, it was categorized as a vulnerability by Google later, and the hole was subsequently closed. After Google patched the hole, the Fast Web Installer could no longer function.
Now, several months later, Google's own web Market includes the very same web install functionality, obviously with the difference of being official and not a result of a security hole.
What are your feelings on that? Have you reached out to Google for a solution that would allow Fast Web Installer to work again?

Appbrain: Only Google knows the exact reasons why they disabled fast web install. Our users and we were of course very disappointed that this convenient feature was not possible anymore. We are currently looking into ways to bring it back though.

Android Police: Your current Alexa ranking is 3384. How many monthly visitors does that translate to? What impact on your traffic do you think the official web market will have or has already had since it was released?

Appbrain: Of course there is more competition on the web for Android users now and it will get harder to attract users. However in the end this is good for the users if there is more competition, we will try our best to stay ahead and provide the best service. We are not worried about the competitors, even if it is Google, we are just focused on improving our own service.

We currently have almost 2 million downloads of the AppBrain app, even though there was always competition from the Android market app.

Android Police: Does your team have any other projects in the Android space? I know you've authored quite a few apps. Have they been successful in generating revenue for you? Are there plans to move strictly to Android development?
How many and which Android devices does the team own and use for development and testing?

Appbrain: Yes, we develop a couple of other apps, most of them were originally developed before we started on AppBrain. The plan is to keep working on AppBrain as our main project. Once in a while we like to release new apps, for example before Christmas we released a Christmas card app.

We currently test our apps on Nexus One, Motorola Milestone, HTC Evo, T-Mobile G1, Motorola Charm and HTC Tattoo.

Android Police: What's the phone coming out this year that has you excited the most?

Appbrain: I am most excited about tablets this year. I am looking forward to the Motorola XOOM and also the others tablets that will come out with Android 3.0 this year.

Android Police: What are the top places that send Appbrain traffic?

Appbrain: We get a lot of direct traffic which is great because our users remember our website and go there directly. Also a lot of traffic from Google web search and from many Android related blogs and websites.

Android Police: How about your favorite Android apps and/or games?

Appbrain: Of course I use AppBrain a lot, also Skype and Twidroid. My favorite games are Angry Birds, GalaxIR Star and Robo Defense.

Android Police: Is there anything else you'd like to mention as part of this interview?

Appbrain: Thank you for the interview and many thanks also to our users who helped us with all their feedback to build AppBrain!

So, there you have it, straight from the horse's mouth - Appbrain is not planning to give up or go away, although I think it will undoubtedly take a hit. Will you still visit AppBrain or does the official web Market satisfy you 100%?

Poll

Will you still use AppBrain for your web market?

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Artem Russakovskii
Artem is a die-hard Android fan, passionate tech blogger, obsessive-compulsive editor, bug hunting programmer, and the founder of Android Police.
Most of the time, you will find Artem either hacking away at code or thinking of the next 15 blog posts.

  • Kane

    Thanks for organizing the interview guys. I wish Uwe would go into more details at times but overall I'm glad they're not giving up. Google Market still has ways to go.

  • Andrew

    The Google market app does not show star ratings unless an app is selected; this may seem trivial, but I find it to be a fatal flaw. AppBrain is great, but could benefit from better search (it must be known if the app title has a space or not, i.e. 'app brain' will not bring up AppBrain, but 'appbrain' will). Also, it may be time for a modern aesthetic makeover.

  • DavidM

    I think this is kind of sad. The app market is by Google, not Appbrain. So there shouldn't really be any other market that is the same. It really does not make any sense, this will only further hurt the Android ecosystem. As if the app stores that are popping up for android aren't bad enough. I really think the Appbrain developers should just merge with Google and work with them on this. Appbrain will only just create confusion and more fragmentation of were you get your apps on Android. Google should step up and solve this issue and become much, much more stricter with the market (and other aspects of Android). For me this only causes more concern that Android isn't a very united system. I see Android as becoming like the Windows of smartphones, but sadly Google does not seem to be able to control their own product! Obviously manufacturers can't really modify Windows, Android should be the same. I'm not saying Android shouldn't be open, i'm just saying that Google needs to clamp down on these issues and man up (at least provide a vanilla version of Android for all phones in alternative to the skin plagued Android versions from manufacturers ). My friend once said Google is just a pushover with certain aspects of the way they do business, i'm starting to believe that.

    • Coldman

      Your solution to the problem is not feasible and just impossible. Google already provides vanilla Android - it's called AOSP and it's fully open sourced.

      But the phones are so different in nature, physical characteristics, hardware chips, etc that they all require different drivers and all kinds of modifications that is not up to Google to implement. In addition, licenses for these mods allow for the code to remain closed.

      So it's up to manufacturers to implement these various drivers and additional functionality (such as 4G), and then it's up to them to mess with the phones, while they're at it.

      Your solution exists in a world where everything is open sourced, but that is not the case, by far.

      Also, your advice to have Google merge independent sites with the Android Market is beyond preposterous - how is Google to take independent companies and "merge" them with itself? Unless it can acquire all of them, they have full rights to exist.

      Same with the Market itself. Looks like you should look into going Apple.

      • DavidM

        The problem is, i have used Apple products, and i'm not satisfied with them. That's the reason i looked over to Android. For me, my problem would be solved if the Nexus S was on every major carrier, but it is not. But i would like to say that the way manufacturers are modifying android... it'll all end up in a deluded mess. I do not understand how this can keep up with all the "messing" around manufacturers do. I'm sure you can see how this is having effect on phones like the Motorola Cliq XT, with the updates to Android that it will never get. For example i have a HTC Evo, and i'm wondering when will i get the Android 2.3 update?? Months is all i can think of... if at all. I just wish i could have a choice to whether i want my phone's software modified by the manufacturer or at least have an official vanilla version of Android to enable or install for that device. I suppose it's just wishful thinking that will never happen. It seems that i'll have to resort to custom ROMs.

        As for the market what i meant through "merge" was for appbrain to work under Google, it looks like you know more about this than i do.

        But my question to you is, is it possible to keep android open sourced but to also restrict manufacturers (or anyone else) from selling modified versions of Android (unless the modifications are approved by Google), and at the same time to allow buyers/users to make any modifications they want (hence open sourced, with a source code open)?

        • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

          I think Google can help define standards and guidelines but due to relaxed licensing, they can't do much to stop the manufacturers. The best thing for the consumer would be manufacturers realizing that what they're doing is hurting them in the long term and doing what Sony Ericsson is doing - easing up on the integrated UIs and just adding in widgets and apps. But they're still responsible for the drives and software for the custom hardware, so it would still be up to them to get the updates ready.

    • zombiedad

      I think you might misunderstand. AppBrain does not create a second, competing market. It simply presents the Google Market in new, more useful ways for end users.

  • DavidM

    I agree with you Artem, and I hope manufacturers understand this sooner than later.

  • Thomas

    The Android Market website shows up in chinese for me (I live in Thailand and Google seems to think everyone in Asia speaks Chinese???), so I'll stay away for a while... AppBrain FTW!!!

  • anon

    You should allow us to uncheck certain permissions in our searches, and anything with them won't show up.

  • Louis

    INHO, after this Google move, the only alternative market that has differentiation onver long term seems to be Bazaar / Aptoide.

    There you don't have just a directory of apps as in AppBrain but you manage your repository...

  • http://This1That1Whatever.com/ David Wong

    As a provider of apps, I find sites like AppBrain to be useful as additional sources of people finding my apps. http://igtsoft.com/tarot-lovers/