Android apps to lend it edge?

Analysts are split on how much impact the growing application ecosystem on Google's new mobile OS will make to the eventual device sales.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

While analysts agree Google's Android application market will be integral to the appeal of the eventual devices, some are split on how much of an impact the applications will ultimately make to the device sales.

In an effort to spur third-party development on its upcoming mobile platform, Google released the first Android SDK (software development kit) earlier this year for a US$10 million developer competition, of which it ended the first round recently.

Further, the search giant last month released a 0.9 beta update to the SDK, which is said to provide a closer picture of the final OS to developers--all before actual Android devices have hit the market.

In contrast, Apple released its iPhone's SDK almost a year after its device first debuted.

Jack Gold, principal of research firm, J. Gold Associates, thinks Google's move to give developers a headstart with the SDK's early release bodes well for the OS' popularity. "Apps are always a big selling point, the more choice the better.

"The [iPhone] store has been a huge success and has made users more favorably disposed to the phones. No doubt the Android market will provide the same positive experience," he said in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia.

Bryan Wang, director, Asia-Pacific connectivity research at Springboard Research, agrees that Google's readying of more apps before the phones' releases will provide a major selling point for them. But he thinks the availability of apps will eventually have little bearing on the phones' sales performance.

Compared to the iPhone, the Android phones "cannot compete" in terms of branding and design, said Wang in an e-mail interview. "Applications will be the only selling point for Google's phones...I believe that it is Google's strategy to get more applications ready to use before the phones are available in the market.

"Without applications, Android phones may face sales challenges from the very beginning," he said.

But Wang said the Android app market may find traction mainly amongst "tech-savvy consumers" because of the app market--not the main consumer base, which is less concerned with the variety of apps available.

"I do not think quality of applications matters. There are also thousands of Windows Mobile and iPhone applications and most of them are considered averagely developed," he said, adding that 20 to 50 "good" apps will be sufficient to attract buyers.

Gold thinks Google's early opening of its SDK to developers will help sift out the good apps from the pile, as well as bring exposure to good developers. Generally, it is very difficult for developers to get their apps noticed and into the hands of the users, so "the app market provides both visibility and a single place to go to discover the app", he said.

The first Android-based device is expected out by the end of this year, according to Google.

Competing mobile OS maker, Microsoft, may eventually have an app store for Windows Mobile 7 too, called Skymarket.

Microsoft has an estimated 18,000 apps in its third-party ecosystem at present, compared to the iPhone's 2,000 or so, although they are not located in one consolidated archive.

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