High app attrition slows Android growth

Half-baked, experimental apps that are quickly taken down, alongside Android Market's billing structure and refund process for purchases, can adversely impact growth of Google's mobile ecosystem, reveal developers.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

Developers are posting up "half-baked" or experimental apps due to Android's open environment, many of which are taken down shortly after as consumers give such software a miss, says developers who note that the Android Market's inferior app billing and refund system could adversely impact the growth of Google's mobile ecosystem.

Chua Ziyong, a Singapore-based Android developer, told ZDNet Asia that unlike Apple's iOS closed environment, anyone can develop an app and publish it on Google's Android Market. This means people who visit the appstore are more likely to discover "half-baked apps or half-done projects that are uploaded for market testing or for pleasure", Chua said.

Apple's prerequisite scrutiny of apps before they are published, on the other hand, means developers will need to put in "a lot more effort" to write the app to get Cupertino's approval. This makes it "painful" to abandon the project once it is on the App Store, he said in his e-mail.

Google, however, had previously explained its stance on adopting an open source model for Android, noting on its Web site that the decision came as a result of the company's experience launching mobile apps. "We wanted to make sure that there was no central point of failure so that no industry player can restrict or control the innovations of any other," Google said.

Industry analysts have also lauded the role of open source in driving Android's development. In a previous ZDNet Asia report, Ovum and Forrester Research analysts said the open nature of the platform allowed for easy customization and adaptation, and helped populate the ecosystem with content.

Chua, however, further noted that the "paid apps market for Android is bad business". Elaborating, he explained that compared with Apple's App Store, the way Android Market operates is "disadvantageous" in terms of its billing mechanism and refund policy, and there are fewer users registered for the service. "This is a large barrier to cross when it comes to buying apps on the Android market," he added.

The refund policy is also an issue, according to Chua, who pointed out that there's a 15-minute window in which users can "return" paid apps. This, in turn, could lead to users sampling and not buying the app, he said, noting that without a stable revenue stream, it will not make business sense to continue maintaining the app.

The Singapore developer's observations were reiterated by Nelson To, co-author of "The Android Developer's Cookbook". In an earlier interview with ZDNet Asia's sister site, CNET News, To recounted a conversation with two developers and their frustration over the high return rate on Android applications. "One of the reasons is the way the Android Market allows users to return apps is way easier than the return policy on the iPhone," he said.

Chua's comments come on the heels of a blog post in June by AppsFire, an app discovery site for various mobile platforms, which tried to debunk studies by mobile research firms Distimo and research2guidance indicating that Android Market was set to overtake Apple's App Store in terms of the number of apps available on the platform.

In its blog post, AppsFire stated that both studies had failed to take into account the higher app attrition rate experienced by Android Market and portray the actual number of apps available to users. It wrote that out of the roughly 300,000 apps published on the appstore, over 95,000 or 32 percent were no longer available. In comparison, it said Apple experienced lower app attrition rate of 80,000 defunct apps, which accounted for 16 percent of the approximately 500,000 apps on the App Store.

Need for sustainability, scalability
Singapore app company, ShowNearby, offered a few more reasons why Android is seeing a higher app attrition rate. CEO Douglas Gan said some developers jump on the app development bandwagon without having the "resources for sustainability and scalability" necessary for staying in the game.

Furthermore, the high costs of maintaining and updating applications, as well as recurring development costs due to fragmentation issues associated with the Android platform, have caused many developers to drop out of the ecosystem, the executive said in his e-mail.

Chua also dismissed notions that the availability of third-party app sites selling Android apps was hindering the growth of Android ecosystem. He said developers welcome the option of selling their apps on more channels as these sites help target specific customers and match them with relevant software.

"It doesn't really matter where the consumer gets the app because today's problem lies in app discovery," he noted. "Third-party marketplaces are great…whether Android Market grows or not is irrelevant as publishing an [Android app] is more than just listing it there."

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