Big changes in store for Android Market

Big changes in store for Android Market

Summary: Shorter return periods, content filtering, and more promotional graphics are on the way for Android users and developers. Unfortunately we're still stuck with the 325-character description limit.

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Over the next several days, Google will be updating the Android Market on devices running Android 1.6 or higher to introduce a number of changes that will affect users and developers alike. According to email sent Saturday to registered developers, the changes include:

  • Reducing the purchase refund window to 15 minutes (!). Previously, users had 24-48 hours to try an application and get a refund if they didn't like it. Some developers worried that a long refund period could lead to abuses, but users were limited to one refund per application so I don't understand the reason for this change.
  • Users will be able to filter applications by content rating. Developers must set a content rating for their apps by December 15th: Mature, Teen, Pre-Teen, or All.  Applications or games without a rating will be treated as Mature.
  • The details page for every app will show a 180x120 Promotional Graphic at the top, provided by the developer in the Developer Console.
  • Developers can also specify more than 2 screenshots, in several different sizes (currently 320x480, 480x800, or 480x854). Presumably the number of sizes will expand as different resolutions become more common.
  • Market will support filtering based on screen sizes and densities, as well as on GL texture compression formats. Filtering is based on <compatible-screens> and <uses-gl-texture> elements in an app’s manifest, instead of console settings.
  • The Market is getting new "dynamic" categories that will be based on an app's manifest. If your app includes wallpapers or widgets, Market will automatically add them to the new categories.
  • The maximum size for application packages is increasing from 25MB to 50MB.

In addition to the pictures listed above, developers can also provide a 1024x500 Feature Graphic, and a 512x512 High Resolution Application Icon. When I tried to update my app's content rating the developer's console said the high res icon was now required, while the others are optional. I'm hoping that's a mistake that will be fixed because for one of my apps a full color 512x512 icon would be larger than the whole app.

Of all the changes, the most welcome and overdue is the content rating. Hopefully this will put an end to the crappy soft porn apps that are currently flooding the "Just in" box. That's assuming the makers of those apps will correctly rate their apps, and there's no guarantee they will. Deliberately mis-labeling their apps, though, would give Google a good excuse to kick them from the market. If they'd allow users to filter by star rating that would help too, since these apps usually get bad ratings.

Filtering by screen sizes will allow developers to keep their apps from showing on devices with new screen sizes and densities until they've had to test them. It will also let devs release two different versions of an app if they so choose - a regular version for phones and a "HD" version for tablets - and have only one show up in the Market on any particular device.

Still missing is a way to filter apps by CPU and GPU power and type, the amount of main memory, and specific device models. Look at what happened with Angry Birds: If a developer like Rovio knows that their app doesn't work on some models or configurations, they ought to be able to make it so people can't download the app on those phones until they've had time to make it work. Of course, it would be better if every app worked on every device, but since that's not always possible then keeping users from getting frustrated with non-working apps would be a worthy goal.

Personally, I'm opposed to shortening the refund window. Having a "try before you buy" option was a nice feature that competitors such as the iPhone App Store could not match. I think it will make users a little more wary of pressing that "Buy" button, which can't be a good thing for either devs or users. Google should reconsider this move, perhaps compromising with a time in the middle of the two extremes.

Finally, I have to wonder why Google didn't use this opportunity to increase the skimpy 325 character description field. They should increase this to 15K and allow simple HTML formatting like bullet points, italics, and hyperlinks. In my opinion, that would be much more useful and take less metadata space than a high res icon and promo graphics.

Topics: Banking, CXO, Enterprise Software

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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38 comments
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  • A 15 min return policy is MORE THAN GENEROUS for a $0.99 app

    I think that by 15 mins, a person should already know if they like an app or not. In fact, because of the price, I don't see a need for any "return" policy of low cost applications.

    I don't know why the author is complaining about the change, because 48 hrs (2 days) is a ridiculous amount of time for getting a refund for a $0.99 app. In fact, the time lends itself for user abuse ... just like women who buy a dress, use it during a party then return it to the store for a refund.
    wackoae
    • They're not all $0.99

      A lot of apps are $2.99, $4.99, or more. And unlike a dress, you don't get an app dirty by trying it out.
      Ed Burnette
    • Nowhere near enough

      @wackoae

      Nonsense. There is no way that you can test *any* app no matter how simple in 15 minutes. The 24 hour return policy was excellent. If it meant that impulse purchase type apps (like games) would get short shrift because you could get tired of it, then I'm perfectly happy to lose those apps and developers on Android.

      The 15 minute return policy is going to have a reverse effect. People will either not buy as many apps or worse will buy it, pirate it and return within 15 minutes.

      I hope Google gets the 24 hour policy back. When I bought Co-Pilot, I had a problem with it and their customer service didn't get back to me until a few hours later. With the 15 minute return policy, I would have just returned the product and never bought it again since I can only return an app once. With the 24 hour return policy, I was able to test out the app and was satisfied with it and kept it.
      os2baba
      • RE: Big changes in store for Android Market

        @os2baba Co-Pilot has been a great app for my Android phone. 15 minutes to "try" it. It took me much longer to really work out the option setting that I want in a GPS. 24 hours is not too long to really give an app a run through.
        mryanaz
    • Maybe ....

      @wackoae

      there needs to be a distinction between games and apps. For apps, 15 min is far too short. 24 or 48 hours is reasonable. If the app does not have value beyond a day or two, it is not worth buying.

      For games the situation is different. It is probably not hard to beat a game in 24 hrs, return it and get another one for free. Since the game clearly knows how far you have proceeded, it should be relatively simple to block returns for games that have been played a lot.

      Maybe a little more thought needs to go into this by Google and the games developers.
      Economister
      • I Agree

        @Economister: I like your perspective. I agree - more thought needed on the return window.
        Cardhu
      • RE: Big changes in store for Android Market

        @Economister Very reasonable. I support your point of view too.
        balboa41@...
      • RE: Big changes in store for Android Market

        @Economister More thought into this policy could have made both devs and customers far happier. 15 minutes in my opinion is too short for either apps or games. There are numerous reasons why you might not find an issue with it before the 15 minutes are up. What recourse would users have if the dev created a nice front end on the app yet didn't finish of sections that most wouldn't find for more than 15 minutes, if not days. Being able to monitor how long a game was played before giving a refund would be good. I don't know how the process works but requiring a detailed reason should help as well.
        non-biased
  • The magic return policy

    Generations ago Macy's learned that a "no questions" return policy gained far more in sales increases than abusers stole by wearing a dress to a party then returning it.

    Since the developers evidently asked for this, they should be careful what they ask for because they may reap falling sales. The illusory 48 hours which noone uses unless it really is a bum app makes it easy to hit that "buy" button.
    TomMariner
    • Re: The magic return policy

      @TomMariner Exactly. And the kind of abuse most people were initially afraid of - that someone would buy and return the app every day or every time they needed to use it - is prevented anyway by the 1-return-per-app policy.
      Ed Burnette
  • They are calling us cheats!

    The Android Market did break some new ground by having the 24 hour grace period. The time frame was their choice, and it served as an implied guarantee that Android had your back. Use it or don't use it. However with Google's reduction from 1440 to 15 minutes, and their market-speak justification, they are calling out those who have returned products after 15 minutes. In effect, calling us unethical.

    P.S. Your web site login doesn't work on chrome.
    cfaherty
  • RE: Big changes in store for Android Market

    It's never a good thing to take away features. But this particular feature of getting refunds for cheap apps have always been a head-scratcher for me. I could understand if the majority of these apps on Android were polished apps averaging $20 or above like on other platforms (DS, PSP). We are talking refunds on cheap $2 ports (many Flash based games, apps) on a platform that's already known for piracy. And a store that's not nearly as lucrative as iOS platform. What were developers thinking implementing this feature? If users want to find out more about a .99 app, download a trial version or read reviews. Or heck, blow a buck or two.
    dave95.
    • Exactly. Read the reviews.

      @dave95.

      If the app is a bum app, the reviews will show it.
      Bruizer
  • Nope. 15 minutes is far too long.

    Android dev here. Anybody can beat a game in 24 hours. People were using the policy to 'rent' a game and then refund it when they're done. Making the time spent developing the game and the money spent promoting it, a complete waste.

    I can't speak for all developers, but if you are a chronic refunder, I don't want your business. I'd rather deal with honest customers that support Android and support developers instead.
    Mysterious Developer
    • Maybe it's the developers failure here

      @Mysterious Developer
      if you can't make a game or app that holds the users attention for longer than 24 hrs then maybe it's your fault as a developer? if after 15 mins you can't keep a user interested then i'm certain it's your fault. if you have to put more time in a game and or app to keep a users interest then charge more but if you RUSH out a cheep app and the user looses interest quickly then so be it.

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
  • Allow devs to specify.

    Mysterious Developer is right. Although people i see people being annoyed with the 15 minute window, i see it as a lot better than 24 hours due to people finishing the game and returning making me get on average 1/40 downloads as actual sales. Personally i would of thought google would of allowed developers to specify a return period for the only reason that some do not want a try before your buy and some require large amounts of time to test, with perhaps a couple of minutes hard minimum to prevent accidental payments.
    anotherdeveloper
    • RE: Big changes in store for Android Market

      @anotherdeveloper 1/40 conversion rate is terrible but without knowing the quality of your apps we have no idea is that rate is due to cheats or poor quality. Not assuming you don't put out good apps but maybe the return policy could be tied to the rating as well. The higher the rating for the app the longer the return policy is up to a certain point. Isn't the marketplace also somewhat a double edge sword? Don't a lot of die hard open source fans expect everything to be shared, thus don't want to pay for it? This isn't an attack on open source, just a question based on comments I have heard/read over the years.
      non-biased
  • RE: Refund time

    It seems all those in favor of a shorter time are oriented towards gaming software; why not have different categories of refund time based of product type.
    kriticalmas@...
    • RE: Big changes in store for Android Market

      @kriticalmas@... I think that's the point. Games should be treated different from other apps. You will not "beat" an app, and if the app is good enough, you will keep it. So, it will be very nice to have, lets say, 12hrs or 24hrs for the app refund, but just 30mins for the game refund.
      balboa41@...
  • Dont be lame Ed, &quot;Buy and return&quot; IS NOT &quot;try before buy&quot;.

    If google wanted android market to have a real "try before buy" they would copy the trial feature of Microsoft's windows market place. Microsoft has a real try before buy architecture built in ot the market place and the phone os platform. They have shown they're perfectly happy to copy all of Bing's search features so clearly they don't have a philosophical objection. I wouldn't be surprised if someone between google, the mobile operator, etc. may also be having to eat a small transaction fee on either the initial purchase and/or the return. Maybe this way they can wait 15 minutes before doing the initial charge and avoid those. The fact is google just doesnt care if the seller or the buyer gets screwed or they would put a real solution in place. As long as they get the oems to license their services and leave the default search set to google they don't give a rats a$$ if you have any apps on your phone at all. And they dont particualrly care which version of android it is either. android is just another one of one of their half baked, do the bare minimum, efforts to boost search share.
    Johnny Vegas