15
Feb
andy_sisyphus_thumb2

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.

Yargh, Pirates!

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.

Conclusion

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.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Aaron Gingrich

    Well written. I think some sort of community-driven upvote/downvote algorithm for the market would be insanely useful. Could go a long way in keeping spam apps below the good ones.

  • Edd

    Is it now a 30-min refund window then?

    • David Ruddock

      Nope, I'm just an idiot. Fixed. Wasn't too awake when I wrote that portion.

  • http://mindmirror007.blogspot.com alchemist007

    This part doesn't reflect the exact direction or sentiments of the first part that started off the series! It shows obvious lack of material as Google has already started the cleanup of Market and there is not much to complain about and no need to intervene!

  • http://pharaohtechblog.blogspot.com Conan Kudo (ニール・ゴンパ)

    The return window is still only 15 minutes.

    • David Ruddock

      Fixed, for some reason I had it my head that it was 30.

  • http://lavadip.com HRJ

    About spam in the Just In list, yes, fully agree. Google needs to do something immediately.

    One way could be to have filters for the Just-in category, that are saved for every user. (Something like Slashdot filters).

    So, the most recent, unrated apps will be excluded by default. With one click, the user should be able to make them visible.

    But then how will new apps ever get discovered? Probably via word-of-mouth, and other out-of-band means, or when more enterprising users try them and rate them.

  • RandyN

    Good series of articles. I think they definitely need to revisit the 15 minute return policy. I would guess this has backfired and people are less likely to buy and try apps when they can only use them for 15 minutes. I also think the 15 minute window has increased the incidence of pirating apps so the use has a little more time to spend with the app before buying (if they decide to actually buy a legal copy of the app).

    • Duffin

      You're exactly correct. I used to try an app out knowing I had 24 hours to return it. Now, unless it's got 5 stars and few negative comments, I won't even try it out. It's not worth the risk that it'll take longer than 15 minutes to find any issues.

      • http://www.twitter.com/xAndroidAddictx Yoshi

        Agreed... I'm to a point where I would rather find a pirated version of an app to fully test it and then purchase it if the app is good quality. And yes I do actually purchase the apps that are worth paying for =]

  • Dileep

    I would also like a filter based on language. I get loads of korean apps. And they are really useless to me coz i dont understand it...

  • Crazyheaven

    I see the issue with the market. I agree with the market needing a better payment system and more ways to sort through it. I disagree with the spam parts. There isn't any way to deal with that without locking the market down.

  • chris

    Better search filters are needed. I think google should add a 'flag as spam' button above or below the the 'flag as inappropiate' button, if it was marked by say, a hundred users (maybe I'm thinking to small) it would be delegated to the murky depths of the market never to be, realisticly, seen again. And if it happened, say 3 times for one developer, they were sent a warning stating that if they didn't stop spamming the market with crap-ware their account would be disabled or banned, next app that was marked as spam would disable their account. It would rely on us users being very active and clicking into these apps that would usually be ignored, but I think a consumer vetting process would be right thing for android.

    • http://www.twitter.com/xAndroidAddictx xAndroidAddictx

      +1

  • http://www.appbrain.com/ Mathijs – AppBrain Android Market

    Probably preaching to the choir here, but just in case you hadn't tried: if you want better search filters, filtered spam apps, personalized recommendations and browsing of apps that friends and internet celebrities use, give the AppBrain android apps site a try: http://www.appbrain.com/

    We think it's great that the Android open ecosystem allows third parties to innovate on top of Google's systems.

    • chris

      It is great that Google allow that. However, I'm thinking that perhaps Google should just hire you guys to redesign the market (in AppBrain's image) :)

  • three_pineapples

    I think you oversimplified the problem of paid market apps being available in all countries.

    It isn't just a matter of flicking a switch. The problem is that Google has to negotiate with the carriers in each country, because for some retarded reason, the carriers believe they have a right to some of the 30% share Google takes.

    A good example of this was Optus in Australia. It took them nearly 2 years to come to an agreement with Google, because they wanted a larger share than Google was offering them. I have no idea how it eventually got resolved, but people resorted to a program called Market Enabler which allowed you to pretend to be on a different carrier.

    And this was a company that sold Android phones :/ Meanwhile, Telstra who didn't have android phones for sale at the time, had signed the agreement with Google and so Paid apps were available.

    My point being that for some reason Google can't expand into markets without signing an agreement with the carrier. I don't know why, but that appears to be the way it is.

    P.S. I like the "lite" versions of apps. I also like add-supported version of apps.

    I find much of the article amusing since you claim you want an open market, but then list all the ways it should be restrictive (I agree with the spam apps but that's about it)

  • OFI

    "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."

    Isn't this largely down to the likelihood of an app not working?

    On an iPhone an app is pretty much going to work. Android obviously has the huge fragmentation issue with various hardware/software variations to deal with.

    The flat 15 minute window just doesn't work, it needs to be increased for some categories or left to the discretion of the dev.
    I've seen numerous comments on apps lately that say the person has been unable to get a refund on an app inside the window presumably due to various delays in the systems.
    Some games are getting bigger, more expensive and requiring better and better hardware. Unless the dev specifically says what the requirements are then someone has got to take the gamble on try it on each device without any chance of a refund should their device not be up to it. Not cool.

  • ari-free

    I bet the push for such a short window came from developers of games that you could beat in just a day.

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