Big changes in store for Android Market

Shorter return periods, content filtering, and more promotional graphics are on the way for Android users and developers. Unfortunately we're still stuck with the 325-character description limit.
Written by Ed Burnette, Contributor

Over the next several days, Google will be updating the Android Market on devices running Android 1.6 or higher to introduce a number of changes that will affect users and developers alike. According to email sent Saturday to registered developers, the changes include:

  • Reducing the purchase refund window to 15 minutes (!). Previously, users had 24-48 hours to try an application and get a refund if they didn't like it. Some developers worried that a long refund period could lead to abuses, but users were limited to one refund per application so I don't understand the reason for this change.
  • Users will be able to filter applications by content rating. Developers must set a content rating for their apps by December 15th: Mature, Teen, Pre-Teen, or All.  Applications or games without a rating will be treated as Mature.
  • The details page for every app will show a 180x120 Promotional Graphic at the top, provided by the developer in the Developer Console.
  • Developers can also specify more than 2 screenshots, in several different sizes (currently 320x480, 480x800, or 480x854). Presumably the number of sizes will expand as different resolutions become more common.
  • Market will support filtering based on screen sizes and densities, as well as on GL texture compression formats. Filtering is based on <compatible-screens> and <uses-gl-texture> elements in an app’s manifest, instead of console settings.
  • The Market is getting new "dynamic" categories that will be based on an app's manifest. If your app includes wallpapers or widgets, Market will automatically add them to the new categories.
  • The maximum size for application packages is increasing from 25MB to 50MB.

In addition to the pictures listed above, developers can also provide a 1024x500 Feature Graphic, and a 512x512 High Resolution Application Icon. When I tried to update my app's content rating the developer's console said the high res icon was now required, while the others are optional. I'm hoping that's a mistake that will be fixed because for one of my apps a full color 512x512 icon would be larger than the whole app.

Of all the changes, the most welcome and overdue is the content rating. Hopefully this will put an end to the crappy soft porn apps that are currently flooding the "Just in" box. That's assuming the makers of those apps will correctly rate their apps, and there's no guarantee they will. Deliberately mis-labeling their apps, though, would give Google a good excuse to kick them from the market. If they'd allow users to filter by star rating that would help too, since these apps usually get bad ratings.

Filtering by screen sizes will allow developers to keep their apps from showing on devices with new screen sizes and densities until they've had to test them. It will also let devs release two different versions of an app if they so choose - a regular version for phones and a "HD" version for tablets - and have only one show up in the Market on any particular device.

Still missing is a way to filter apps by CPU and GPU power and type, the amount of main memory, and specific device models. Look at what happened with Angry Birds: If a developer like Rovio knows that their app doesn't work on some models or configurations, they ought to be able to make it so people can't download the app on those phones until they've had time to make it work. Of course, it would be better if every app worked on every device, but since that's not always possible then keeping users from getting frustrated with non-working apps would be a worthy goal.

Personally, I'm opposed to shortening the refund window. Having a "try before you buy" option was a nice feature that competitors such as the iPhone App Store could not match. I think it will make users a little more wary of pressing that "Buy" button, which can't be a good thing for either devs or users. Google should reconsider this move, perhaps compromising with a time in the middle of the two extremes.

Finally, I have to wonder why Google didn't use this opportunity to increase the skimpy 325 character description field. They should increase this to 15K and allow simple HTML formatting like bullet points, italics, and hyperlinks. In my opinion, that would be much more useful and take less metadata space than a high res icon and promo graphics.

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