Lack of paid Android apps stifling Asia's developers

Unavailability of paid apps for Android phone users in most of Asia has prevented more developers from coming onboard, say industry voices.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

The unavailability of paid Android apps for users in most parts of Asia has muffled the enthusiasm of developers in the region going to the platform, say industry voices.

Android's on-device app store, Android Market, allows developers and users in only some countries to create and buy paid apps, respectively.

Japan is the only country in Asia that is part of the list, leaving the rest of the region with just free apps to choose from.

Lim Thye Chean, a Singapore-based full-time mobile app developer, said the inability to sell apps has turned him off from further development for the Android platform.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Lim said one of his older Android games, Space War, has been ranked one of the top 10 arcade games for the platform, having been downloaded 750,000 times. But since it can't be sold, he's put Android development on hold for about a year, instead looking at development on competing Apple devices.

"Google has pushed me and many Android developers over to the iPhone, and now the iPad," he said.

A Google spokesperson said in an e-mail response that the store carries some 40,000 apps, with about 60 percent being free.

On opening paid apps to more countries, the spokesperson said: "Many factors come into play to make sure the selling and purchasing processes run smoothly. It takes time to bring support to more countries, which is something we are working hard to do."

Tony Cripps, Ovum principal analyst, agreed that paid apps are an important part of developers' considerations in investing in a platform.

"The total number of Android apps will definitely suffer as a result of these developers' inability to charge for them," Cripps said via e-mail.

He noted that the quality and variety of apps available on a platform also affect consumer purchasing decisions.

In comparison to Android Market's 40,000 apps, the Apple App Store stocks about 150,000, according to recent estimates, of which 75 percent of iPhone apps are not free.

Cripps said that in the event paid Android apps start being offered to more countries, it is not too late to catch up with the iPhone in the race to win consumer mindshare.

"Android is still in its early stages of development, so it's not too late," he said, but added that the lack of uniformity in Google's go-to-market strategy across geographies has caused confusion and frustration for developers wanting to distribute apps to many countries.

This isn't the only thorn in the side for Android developers. Another barrier to developing for the platform has been Android's growing level of fragmentation caused by different devices running different versions of the software.

In addition, Android's open source OS allows manufacturers to modify portions of it for their devices, which may render some apps unstable or unusable on alternative versions.

Android devices have been selling well, surpassing the iPhone in U.S. market share in the first quarter of this year to take second spot behind Research in Motion's BlackBerrys.

Similar to the iPhone and Nokia's Ovi platforms, developers get a 70 percent cut of the revenue made through the Android Market.

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