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Developers: Android apps need marketing boost

Android mobile apps are reportedly not selling as well as the iPhone's, and developers say ineffective marketing is to blame
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor on

Android mobile apps are reportedly not selling as well as the Apple iPhone's apps, and some developers blame it on ineffective marketing on Google's Android Market.

Developer Tony Kay, whose two apps, Color Pop and Twistype, are top-ranked on the Android marketplace, told ZDNet UK's sister site, ZDNet Asia, in an email interview that the app showcase is lacking in comparison to the iPhone's.

One example he gave was the fact developers cannot upload screenshots to market their apps, as well as a 325-letter limit to the application description "which is woefully inadequate for everything except an alarm clock".

Kay noted that the Android website also lists a smaller selection of apps, compared to what mobile users can see. It highlights just the top few percent of apps that were most downloaded, hiding the majority of available apps from users browsing from a PC, he said. He explained that Android users do not have this issue if they browse the site via their mobile devices.

This prevents non-Android users, or those who prefer to search online on their PCs, from browsing available apps, he noted.

Kay said this "complete disassociation" of the website from the phone is also evident in the lack of integration — users cannot purchase an app from their PCs, unlike iPhone users on Apple's iTunes platform.

Android Market also tends to sort free apps at the top — burying paid apps from view — because the site does not distinguish free from paid apps and sorts them by download count, resulting in the top billing for free apps, he said.

Comparing Android with Apple's iTunes and mobile App Store, he said: "There are screenshots, tons of text space, room for marketing images, and the ability to window shop from any computer with iTunes, purchase an app and later install it on your phone."

Kay's observations are echoed in a blog post from Larva Lab's Matt Hall. The Android game maker is not enjoying any windfalls from the Google marketplace, in spite of selling two of the platform's top-ranked games.

Some of Hall's complaints about Android Market also highlighted the lack of screenshots and difficulty in finding paid apps. The option to show paid apps is buried in a sub-menu, he said.

Revenues 'nothing to shout about'
Kay said revenues generated by his apps on the Android platform pale in comparison to the iPhone's earnings.

While some top-ranked games have earned $20,000 (£12,000) a month in the early months, this is much smaller in comparison to the six- and seven-figure numbers registered on the iPhone platform, he said.

Kay's paid apps have garnered 4.5 out of five stars in the user ratings and held top billing for about half a year, although he said he "just barely cracked minimum wage for the time [he] spent".

Sales are "relatively steady, but nothing to shout about", he added.

Another developer, Dan Syrstad', has a paid app called AlphaMixr that is also one of the top-rated games on the Android Market. In an email interview with ZDNet Asia, Syrstad said the app pulls in about $25 per day and added that he will be announcing other apps "to compensate" the shortfall.

Developers want direct billing
Another issue highlighted in Hall's blog post was Google's Checkout process, which requires users to input a credit-card number to buy an app, instead of billing the amount directly to their mobile plan. This lengthier process, compared to the iPhone's, acts against impulse buys, said Hall.

Syrstad agreed. "People don't want to whip out their credit card and type in all of the information to spend $0.99 to $2.99."

Citing analytics he conducted to track the number of clicks on the "buy full game" button, he said "hundreds of people a day" have the intention of buying the app's full version but drop out during the checkout process. He blames the issue on the lack of a streamlined checkout method.

"We need direct carrier billing or something similar," Syrstad said. "You want the user to say 'I want this app', maybe enter a password, and that's it."

T-Mobile is looking to launch a direct billing service for its US customers, which will allow Android-based app purchases to show up in customers' mobile bills.

T-Mobile currently uses the Google Checkout process for its Android devices, but is expecting to launch direct billing in future, a representative told ZDNet Asia via email.

A Google spokesperson said the recently announced updates that will be coming with Android 1.6 aim to address these issues.

Google said: "We've made significant changes to the user interface to make it easier for users to find both paid and free applications. We are also currently exploring additional payment options to make it easier for users to purchase applications."

The update to Android Market also appears to be aimed at addressing some of the aesthetic complaints, by including longer descriptions and screenshots.

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