First thoughts on the Android App Store

I bought an htc incredible from Verizon today. One of my main motivations for switching (from a blackberry) was to understand whether android is a credible competitor to the iPhone. No other platforms have any chance (Blackberry is pathetic, Nokia is dead in the water) so this is a pretty important question! If Android is no good then apple has a lock on the mobile web, which is a pretty scary thought.
First impression: Android definitely lacks the fit and finish of the iphone. It feels like an early windows device in many ways. It doesn’t resonate with me emotionally the way the iphone does, and it’s frankly pretty ugly in places. But the core OS seems “good enough” from a functional standpoint.
Smartphones live and die by there app stores though.  I’ve gotten addicted to iPhone games lately, and religiously buy the top 10 games on the iphone marketplace. So naturally the first thing I checked out on the Android app store was the games category.I was shocked at how bad the games selection was on the Android marketplace. The top games all almost all bad “tower defense” clones. Not a lot of games from major studios (why? porting a game that already sells well seems like a no-brainer to me). Not a lot of the games that have been grand-slam successes on the iPhone. Most games I tried didn’t even have good artwork and looked like they were done by individual developers rather than studios.
The app selection was eye-opening. While most social apps are present and easy to find (foursquare, twitter, facebook, etc), the top apps seem to trend very (for lack of a better word) middle-american. Military survival manuals and bible passages are both huge categories. A lot of the most popular apps are really just repackaged ebooks (Oreilly seems to be doing a particularly good job of getting distribution this way). In general the app market wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, but it was certainly better than the games market, and anything I was specifically looking for (mostly social apps) was available.
So the games suck and the app selection is only so-so. Doesn’t sound good for Android so far, does it? There’s a third category of apps besides games and utilities though. Google is an important enough player in the IT space that a lot of my mobile computing needs have to do with interfacing with google. For example, I use google reader, so a google reader client is a must-have for me. On the iphone I had to buy three applications (total cost: 10$) before I found one that was any good. On android there are several good free applications available. Gmail integration is even better.
Email is obviously a crucial app for a smartphone. And this is where Android *really* shines. I was never happy with the non-threaded nature of the iphone email client (in a small form factor, the top of your inbox gets impossibly cluttered very fast). And using gmail for your domain on the blackberry was surprisingly bad (couldn’t use my existing mail filters, no threading). The gmail app on android works great with a gmail for your domain account and is shockingly fast and easy to use. This is the best mobile email client I’ve ever seen. I anticipate using this app every single day, much more than I did on the blackberry or the iPhone.
At 12 hours in, I’m convinced Android has a shot. The app marketplace is nascent, and I was hoping to see higher-quality inventory and a lot more traction than I saw. Googles play is attacking apple with an open OS that can be bundled by any carrier, and having first-class applications that drive users of the platform back to google. For me and for many other consumers (especially in areas like San Francisco, that are under-served by AT&T) this is a decent solution. But google better get the app store populated with first-class applications by next year, when the iPhone will be available from other carriers.

4 thoughts on “First thoughts on the Android App Store

  1. Kingsley 2.0 June 9, 2010 / 11:53 am

    “why? porting a game that already sells well seems like a no-brainer to me”
    2 reasons:
    1) If you wrote your game for the iPhone first, you’re invested in an Objective-C codebase and it isn’t the easiest port to Android SDK. This doesn’t matter as much to social media apps since they’re typically light clients with all the functionality on the server. Your experience bares out that only easy-to-port apps are getting ported.

    2) The Android, due to it’s open nature is a poor marketplace. Pure-popularity based featuring algorithms become either chaotic or overly flat without some form of maintenance/featuring. Combine that with the “feature” where users can return the game within 24 hours, and you’ll see that there is a lot of trial and very little sales. The game dynamics that really work in such an environment are not the ones that work in an iPhone-like market. For example, on the iPhone, quick time wasters rule, but on the Android, I’d design games that get you invested in a virtual world or something which you will hate to lose by returning the app.

    If Google fixes #2, there will be incentives to overcome #1. Otherwise, it’s doomed to mediocrity.

  2. admin June 9, 2010 / 9:01 pm

    Wow great description. Sounds like android should kill the return policy … just a bad idea to let people try out and return a product that only costs $1.

    Not sure about chaotic/static thing … I look at top 10 lists for categories on iphone, which are ranked purely by sales (I think). Not sure why curated would be better (though I can imagine winners staying winners, so I could imagine it being static.

  3. Kingsley 2.0 June 10, 2010 / 11:39 am

    iPhone app store has a prominent “featured” list which acts as a seed in many ways. An alternative is some kind of social discovery system, like on facebook. Popularity indices without either of the 2 will make the top lists driven almost purely by chance.

  4. Dantv June 11, 2010 / 11:56 am

    Why is everyone spending so much time worring about the copycat when they can have the original iPhone.

    I spent 10 years with Windows Mobile before the iPhone came along and blew it out of the water. I was happy to abandon WinMo and all the apps that I had spent good money on to move to the innovative iPhone. Now I am a HAPPY iPhone user with a good investment in apps. I will never switch to another platform unless something NEW and INNOVATIVE comes along that blows the iPhone out of the water. Android is NOTHING new. Google basically copied the iPhone. If Microsoft had done Android can you imagine that hate that would be spewed out on Microsoft. But Google gets a complete pass on this…

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