Uhoh, he's at it again. No, I'm not going to make this a rant that is hugely controversial or upsetting. Seemingly contrary to what I write sometimes, I love Android. And anyone who loves Android can agree: the Android Market kinda-sorta sucks sometimes.
Whoa there, let me qualify that - some aspects of the Market are less than fantastic, and I think every Android user has come to realize this. In fact, I doubt it's a stretch to say that the Market's shortcomings are the single biggest reason Android hasn't eaten the iPhone for breakfast in terms of critical acclaim. Let's face it, the Market needs to change - but in what ways?
Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...
Sexy Girls Live Wallpaper, Pull My Finger XTREME Widget, LA Clippers Visitor Colors Theme - what do they have in common? The Android Market is a lot like eBay; anyone with an account and a credit card can get in and show up at the top of the "Just In" list in a matter of minutes. This is bad.
I love free and open. I love the idea that Google doesn't decide what is and isn't "appropriate" for my phone. What I don't love is the fact that some shady excuse for a live wallpaper costing $1 can be posted over and over again in the Market and go unchallenged by the powers that be.
Granted, app policing takes manpower, but the fervent and devoted Android community should provide Google a lot of the necessary feedback to take copyright-infringing, absurdly overpriced apps like LOUIS VUITTON PINK LIVE WP&CLOCK (~$6.84) off of the Market. Unfortunately, this probably wouldn't be fast enough - the fact is that "apps" like this rely on their presence in the "Just In" filter in the Market. No one (well, almost no one) is going to go searching and find that app. Except me, because I had to find a link to the Web Market page, so I could prove to you that it exists.
How do we stop these apps? A checkpoint. How many apps are submitted to the Android Market every hour? 10? 50? Even the latter wouldn't be impossible for a couple of people to manage in terms of rooting out "spam". I think live wallpapers, soundboard, and "fun" widgets should be delegated to an entirely separate (read: not part of "Just In" list in All Apps) "Uncategorized" section of the Market. Calling them "Spam" outright would pretty much be a shot in the foot to the Android Market's credibility.
Who should do it? Google-selected moderators or full-time Google employees. The benefit to Android would be massive, and the cost to Google would be relatively low. Of course, guidelines for classifying these questionable apps would need to be created and documented, as well as kept up to date to deal with evolving strategies of app spammers. But I think it could be done, and this would at the least start to remedy what I see as the Market's biggest flaw.
I think we can all agree that there is a qualitative difference between someone's fledgling attempt at an ad-supported Android game and a $1 live wallpaper that shows a pair of bouncing breasts. Capitalism is fine and dandy, but a junk filter would be just as welcome on the Market as it is on my Gmail account.
Android has come a long way in this area. Whereas one year ago the internet was abound with Android app "subscription" sites offering access to a vast library of pirated apps, such webpages have seen a substantial decrease in popularity with the Android community recently.
Google's addition of new anti-piracy features in the Android SDK has helped, of course - and partial SD storage of apps allows licenses for paid apps to remain on the Android phone's internal memory. While it's still possible to pirate paid Android apps, the trend has definitely ceased catching on in the US. In other countries, however, where paid apps may be unavailable, piracy is still rampant. To be fair, this is less Android's fault, and more Google's. Until Google Checkout or carrier billing become universally available in all markets where Android is present, piracy will remain a regional issue for the Market.
Not to say Apple's App Store is perfect in this way, either - Jailbroken iPhones have access to a smorgasbord of pirated apps through various sources.
Sorting Things Out
Android has three sorting options: Featured, Top Apps, and Just In. Secondary filters like paid versus non-paid and the various categories don't really sort, they just exclude. And filtering is good, categories can be helpful at times - and I'd like more filters in the future.
But you'd think the kings of query would have something a little more... versatile in terms of search options. Perhaps the ability to sort by "Most Downloaded This Week" or "Highest Rated," even. Now, I can see what Google's thought process is in their simplified tabs: Top Apps conglomerates all of Google's query-magic using number of downloads and ratings against time as part of some complex algorithm, but some of us really like the ability to have an advanced search option, and sometimes it's a lot more effective.
I would think this is something Google has thought about extensively, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Android Market get revamped search and sorting features in the future, because they're in a sore state at the moment. The "Top Free Apps" list often provides some good picks, as does the "Featured Apps", but there's no doubt that a few more sort and filter options would make people happy.
Goodbye, Lite Apps
Google has already made clear its hope to solve one of the Market's more annoying problems - "lite" versions of paid apps. Eg, demos and trial versions. In-app payments will allow users to simply "unlock" the full version of the apps they download, and hopefully carrier billing via text message or alternative pay portals will open up paid apps to a much wider audience throughout the world.
This also means the eradication of the return window, most likely. At present, a paid app may be returned within 15 minutes to receive a full refund of your purchase. It doesn't sound like in-app payments will have such an option - obviously text and carrier billing wouldn't, at least. This may effectively get rid of Android's app return system as developers switch to free locked-down versions of their apps that require in-app payment to fully unlock. Once payment is made, there's no going back - aside from contacting the developer, that is.
Some developers would argue that this is a good thing. Many paid apps only get used once or twice, and this increases the incentive to only download a paid app when you need it, and then just return it once you're done with the one task you needed it for. Of course, the previous 24 hour return window made this sort of behavior a lot easier, and a lot more common. Many believe the 15 minute window is simply too short, and some developers have supported calls to increase it to 1 or 2 hours. With in-app payment, the whole debate may become moot.
It's worth noting the the Apple App Store doesn't allow returns unless you contact App Store support, and provide them a convincing reason as to why they should refund your purchase, and they then may at their discretion give you a refund.
But, it seems likely that in-app payments will bring more praise than criticism, as it's a feature Android users have been clamoring for since the days of the G1.
The Market is heading in the right direction, but the visual overhaul and In-App payment system are just two of the numerous things the Market needs to succeed. The pieces are coming together - let's just hope Google is putting together the same puzzle we are.