Greg's bite: piracy of Android apps verses iTunes
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Greg's bite: piracy of Android apps verses iTunes

By Greg Mills

Remember the early days of the Apple iTunes store? There were a few brave music companies who posted their music, since the industry was reeling from rampant piracy. It was a free for all with music being stolen left and right.  

Napster and other web sites facilitated the "trading" or downright stealing of copyrighted music. It was such a problem the industry was convinced the Internet was going to kill them off financially. The Internet created a mentality that everything online was free for the downloading.  Copyright laws are still violated, despite serious laws and penalties. Sometimes some a poor miserable pirate is hung high with fines of thousands of dollars per stolen song, but the truth is you are more likely to win the lottery than get caught stealing copyrighted material and being fined for it.

Apple saw that intellectual property rights, patents, copyrights and trademarks had to be respected for a viable on-line market to be created. We have seen DVDs ripped, posted online and distributed. Music can still be found with copy protection defeated. Apple made it easy to be legal and pay a small but significant amount to own the rights to use a song or read a book that is downloaded. The streamlined iTunes experience with "one click" purchases took off. The Apple "go to market" system has been copied by such famous names as Walmart, Sony, Microsoft and others with varying degrees of success. I see the downloading of movies, now in its infancy, following the same path.

When smart phone apps came along, the iTunes business model fit perfectly to allow buyers to find, download and pay for apps in an efficient way. You set up an iTunes account and at the end of a billing cycle, you notice small charges on you credit card bill. It is easy to use and secure.  In the background, the people who created the content get a nice cut of the income from Apple, who keeps the rest of the money to support the on-line store.  

The Android app store, while modeled after the successful Apple's iTunes store has serious intellectual property protection problems. Along with the open source software model comes a problem protecting content providers from piracy. Apple knows and the Android platform is learning, that without actual intellectual property protection, content providers, (the people who slave over computers all day to create the cool apps everyone likes) get ripped off.  

Content providers need to be paid for their work. If they get paid like a slot machine, as with Apple all is well. Since most of the Android apps in use are pirated, the content creators are asking, "why bother to create Android apps?" That idea is settling in and the numbers are not good.  

Junk apps which can be created using the soon to be released drag and drop Android app creator will proliferate, but the really cool professional apps may not come to the Android platform since content providers don't get paid most of the time. The Android platform is still growing, but I think unsustainably as paid content providers will abandon the platform due to the piracy problem, if Google doesn't fix it soon.  

According to a report at "Silicon Alley Insider," 97% of Android's top 10 apps are pirated in Asia, 70% in Europe and 43% in North America.  App creators are a group of people who demand to get paid for their work and the best apps are going to bypass the Android platform if this problem is not fixed.

Google plans to allow Android apps to "check in" regularly to confirm the app has been paid for or it will "disappear." This feature, that must be supported in the Android operating system, is likely to be hacked into not working. That is the problem with open source operating systems that Apple avoids having a closed system.  

While you can jail break your iPhone and iPad to do things Apple wants to discourage, that is not an easy or problem free way to go. Apple makes it easy to do the right thing and charges a fair price for being legal. To me, jail breaking your Apple hardware is like buying a nice new car and housing pigs in the back seat. Someone is sure to want to do it, but not me. I like the elegance of Apple hardware and software working as Apple designed it.

Apps in the Apple business system are reasonably, priced but app creators know they can sell a lot of apps and the money can be quite good. The Android store has run away best sellers in it, but if most of the users stole their copy, what is the use?  

Then comes the "me, too" kid, Steve Balmer, and Microsoft's vaporware known as Mobile Windows 7. It's touted to be the next big thing in the smart phone/slate computer market. Don't hold your breath or you'll die. The only bright spot in the development of Windows Mobile 7 is that the geniuses behind the Kin phone are now working hard on Windows Mobile 7. That must keep Steve Jobs awake at night worrying.  

A further problem is that Google has a system in place to sell legal apps in only 13 countries. The Apple iTunes store is working in 90 countries. There are Android phones everywhere, worldwide. Where are Android phone owners going to get apps when they don't live in one of the 13 countries where you can even buy Android apps and be legal? I will give you one guess.  You obtain a pirated copy of an app and you don't pay the people who created it. This inequity can't last forever. Apple is well aware of these issues and I think will stay well ahead of the pack. The hounds are closing in, but are still a good way back.

I expect Apple to launch a very Applish drag and drop App Creator program for OS X for "hobby app creation" and still support the professional App developer community, which is well protected behind the respect for intellectual property Apple has fostered. Google can solve the problems I have mentioned above, but there will always be the open source problem of not fully controlling the platform, which will forever leave a crack open for the DVD Jons of the world to hack into. There will always be the sort of person who won't pay for anything they can steal.

I think Steve Jobs can sleep just fine, I see Microsoft completely bowing out of the Mobile OS arena by this time next year. I expect the Android store to have as many apps as the iTunes store, but generate only a small fraction of the money Apple brings in. By and large, the average quality of Android apps will always be inferior to what the iTunes store can offer. The economic infrastructure Apple presents is a powerful incentive to it's developer community. Good night Steve....  

(Greg Mills is currently a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Married, with one daughter still at home, Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's web sites at . He can be emailed at


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