Developers say Android has room for improvement

Android still need better payment systems and hardware support, app developers say, even as Google's operating system grows its market dominance.
Written by Ryan Huang, Contributor

Developers still have many peeves over Google's Android operating system (OS), including lack of common screen size standards and paid apps support, as well as its being too "open", despite the platform's growing adoption.

An earlier report showed that Android came up tops with 51.6 percent share of the market in December 2011, according to the number of ad impressions seen by ad network Chitika. This was more than Apple's 46.5 percent, it noted.

However, the increased popularity and adoption of Google's OS brings with it fragmentation challenges, and developers ZDNet Asia spoke to said there is more pressure on them to keep up with the latest iteration of the software and the different handsets it is on.

Douglas Gan, founder of ShowNearby, for one, said fragmentation presents Android's biggest problem and it will not go away anytime soon. "[Android] seems to have the biggest range of devices with different computer processing units, camera qualities, screen sizes and screen resolutions," he noted.

Willson Cuaca, CEO of Apps Foundry, agreed. He said: "The number of screen sizes should be limited. It's hard to develop and design for an operating system with over 16 different screen sizes. There also needs to be better support from OEM device makers to upgrade to operating system."

Developers struggling to catch up
Steve Wah, CEO of Smoove, added that the quick release cycle of Android is another cause of concern. Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich, was only launched last October but Android 5.0, or Jelly Bean, is already in development and expected to hit the market as early as the second quarter of 2012.

A January report by tech news site InformationWeek also revealed that Android 4.0 constituted only 0.6 percent of devices accessing Android Market for apps.

Wah said: "It takes time for developers to customize and update their applications for each device in the market. We have to also take into account the time needed for the manufacturer to customize its own user interface on the operating system, so we still need to focus on older versions as well because the apps are not always backward compatible."

As such, he expects many manufacturers to still launch handsets of older versions such as Android 2.3.

Muh Hon Cheng, a mobile developer at app development company buUuK, also highlighted the problem with customized operating systems.

"For example, we often have problem with Samsung devices. An application that runs fine with the standard Android OS, sometimes may not work properly with a phone made by Samsung. I frequently receive e-mails about features that do not work for some phone models by some manufacturers, and there is no way I can fix them without getting hold of the actual device.

"It's impossible to test on every phone so, usually, I just give up and make sure my app works well with the standard Android OS," he added.

Muh stated that a platform that was too "open" was a bad thing and he hoped Google would place more restrictions on the kind of customizations manufacturers can do. Basic features, for instance, should not be modified or it will be a "nightmare" for developers, he said.

Asked if Samsung had concerns over the Android platform, Winston Goh, product manager of telecommunications at Samsung, said his company works closely with Google on the OS. "The recently launched GALAXY Nexus is a prime example of the type of innovation possible when the two companies collaborate on bringing new and exciting products to market to meet consumers' needs.

"This close collaboration has given both parties an excellent understanding of each other and we look forward to a continued fruitful partnership between the two companies to bring more innovation to consumers," he added.

App payment issues persist
The developers also pointed to how the Android payment systems could be improved.

Top of the list was the limited availability of paid apps with many countries still not supported, noted Cuaca. The purchase of apps is available in over 130 countries currently, but does not include key markets such as China.

Gan, too, faced problems getting support to monetize his app. He said: "We were contemplating a model to charge users for additional content and this could have result in [increased] revenue share, but the lack of market support for local currency, local payments, etc, made it hard for us to move to that model."

However, he noted many companies are now emerging with solutions for in-app payments to address this issue.

Android security not pressing concern
Security on the Android platform has also been highlighted as a concern recently, but Smoove's Wah was not perturbed.

Juniper Networks Mobile Threat center released its findings in February stating that mobile malware hit a record high last year with 155 percent increase across all platforms, with Android leading the way.

More scams have also been spotted on the Android Market, according to a recent blog post by security vendor Trend Micro. "Fan apps", or software that "aren't the real game created by the original developer", have been appearing in the app store and, upon tricking users, could potentially send out sensitive information such as phone numbers and the device's International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI), it noted.

Wah, however, said that while some users might face some issues of this nature, it should not pose a major problem. "I don't think security on the Android Market is a very big issue for us. We don't see it affecting our business much."

When contacted for a response, Google referred ZDNet Asia to its blog post on security, which highlights its new service called Bouncer that is designed to scan and remove malicious software in the Android Market.

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