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What’s wrong with Android Market?

Many games developers are wondering what’s right with it
What’s wrong with Android Market?

Mobile games developers are queuing up to criticise Android and Android Market, in stark contrast to the euphoria around iPhone and its App Store.

Their complaints include the dominance of free apps, a poor discovery process on Android Market, and the fact that games are failing to sell as well as expected through Google’s store. Technical limitations and fears over carrier attitudes have also been expressed to

“The first results from Android are a complete mess,” says one publisher. “It’s too early to draw any conclusions, but it’s certainly not the excellent start we witnessed with iPhone.”

Meanwhile, another publisher says Android needs more work as a platform, and more handsets. “It’s all very Google, I think it should still be considered to be in beta,” says another.

“There is much vagueness around the submissions and details, and also the devices that are currently in market are all G1s. Much as I love the OS, the phone is strictly for hardcore early adopters.”

This last point, at least, should be rectified in the coming months, as more Android handsets appear on the market, starting with the HTC Magic, which has been signed up by Vodafone as a global exclusive.

However, other criticisms include restrictions on the size of game files that can be delivered over the air to Android handsets - meaning the quality cannot compete with iPhone - and fears that as more handsets come to market, the dreaded bugbear of fragmentation will rear its head.

The design and interface of Android Market itself are coming in for stiff criticism from games firms, too.

“Android Market is atrocious, the UK store simply doesn’t work in its current state,” says a third publisher. “The layout is very poor, as is categorisation, and it’s not as feature rich as the latest app stores or carrier stores. It’s very difficult to find content.”

This is having a direct impact on sales, according to the testimony of a fourth games firm. “Once we dropped off the New Apps page, sales just stopped,” they say.

“The game is practically invisible on the Market, as all you see are free apps and games. Publishers are releasing free versions of their games to try and get around this problem, but with the way the Market is currently set up, this is adding to the problem rather than helping them.”

This is perhaps the most worrying point for Google games firms are starting to point to the company itself as the reason for some of the problems with Android and Android Market.

“It’s typical Google: they push free stuff and hide premium content,” says one of’s sources, and they are backed up by another.

“Maybe Google’s mindset is around providing stuff for free and making revenue back from advertising. But they have to make their minds up what it is to be. I would like to know how committed they are to paid-for content, and then I’d like to see some changes to Android Market."

And if that doesn't happen? "At the moment, I don’t see much attraction in putting resources into developing for Android, which is a shame, since it’s not a bad platform and the potential is pretty good.”

If anything, it’s the latter point that shows why games firms are so frustrated with Android right now: the platform has a lot of potential. In fact, one of the sources quoted above makes this clear:

“People are really underestimating the potential impact of Android,” they say. “Some estimates I’ve heard indicate that the OS could account for 30-50 per cent of new device sales by the middle of next year, with most of them at feature phone or lower price points.”

The same source points out that mobile operators have an incentive to promote Android, because they get 30 per cent of the revenues from the sale of applications through Android Market. Here too, though, there may be trouble ahead.

“At least one major carrier is specifying their Android devices to come without the Android store,” says the publisher. Now that’s an entirely different can of worms that Google will need to deal with.

Suffice to say, if Android is to develop into the significant mobile gaming platform developers and publishers have been hoping for, it appears Google has some work to do.

UPDATE - We contacted Google for a response, and a spokesperson had this to say: "Android Market has been extraordinarily popular, with more than 2,300 apps made available and almost 100% of Android handset users downloading at least one app. We're always working to improve the experience on Android Market for both developers and end users, and we always welcome feedback on how we can make it even better."