By Greg Mills
As I mentioned in this column in the past, the biggest problem Android will face in its attempt to be the "iPhone killer" that actually cuts into Apple's pie is being open source. In the debate over closed vs open software platforms, the issue that comes to the top, in terms of business success, is security for developers.
Android's app store is much smaller: 100,000 compared to Apple's 250,000 apps. What's more, while free apps in both stores are common, far and away the best paid apps are in the Apple App Store. There are a number of good reasons why this is -- and why it matters.
First of all, every app was written by someone called a developer. These people work hunched over a computer keyboard all day, consuming pizza and coffee in mass proportions. It is hard work, and there is a steep learning curve to writing apps that are professional in quality. These apps are more likely to be sold than given away.
There are business models where the apps are free, but advertising is run on the app to support the developer financially. Other business models give the app away and then "sell up" to a paid version of the same app that has more levels and or greater quality. Some sell enhancements to use on the free app they give away.
My daughter has approached me about buying "mojo" from the mojo store to fast track her kingdom's development on "We Rule." What that means is the developers of the free "We Rule" app are supported by selling something on line to enhance the game (We Rule is cool, I have a little kingdom myself).
These developers like to be paid for their hard work. Using a Biblical sort of teaching tool, consider the farmer who has two fields about the same size. One field is very fertile and well watered. The other field is dryer and the ground is hard and salty, and nothing grows there very well. The farmer works hard preparing the ground and plants expensive seed in both fields. When it comes time to harvest the crop, the fertile field has a bumper crop, and the dry field's harvest is almost worthless. For a while, the farmer plants both fields, but in time it becomes apparent it is a waste of money to work the dry field, so he abandons it and it only grows weeds. That is the Android store's problem in a nut shell.
The quality gap between the Android store and the Apple App store offerings will only increase as time and the coming "hobby app creator programs" are launched. Android (Google) has a beta drag and drop app creator program in the wings that is going to change everything from a standpoint of the number of apps available for their platform. What is going to intensify over time is the quality gap that is already there. Hobby apps are going to be posted on-line for Android that are simple and not too sophisticated at first. The quality will improve over time but hobby apps are not professional quality apps a developer would offer.
The fertile field in our story, the Apple App Store, pays out money like a slot machine compared to the Android store. The main reason is security for intellectual property that is built-in to Apple devices and the App Store. That element is lame in the Google "go to market" system. That is much harder to do for Google than for Apple due to the open platform they offer and the numerous companies that create their phones.
With this problem firmly in mind, Google added a License Verification Library system to their OS that is intended to check to confirm apps that run on Android phones are actually valid. That new system to protect paid content was almost immediately hacked. Since it does not require root level access to the operating system, a script is sure to come out that will disable the security feature all together for the Android masses.
The percentage of pirated apps on the iPhone platform for un-jailbroken iPhones is almost nil. The world wide percentage of stolen apps running on the Android phones is thought to be over 90%. If this problem is not fixed soon by Google, the developers will quit writing quality Android apps in protest. With the hobby app creator program from Google coming soon, the numbers of apps overall may sound good for Android, but the quality gap between iPhone and the Android stores will further increase. This will blunt the Android surge in popularity. Who cares how many hundred thousand apps are available on an Android, if most of the quality apps are only found on iPhone? This is already true to a great extent.
Another problem Google has is that paid apps can only be purchased in 13 of 46 countries where Android phones are sold. So where do Android owners get their apps in the 33 countries without a legal way to buy apps? Piracy of course. Once a person is used to getting free downloads, retraining them to start buying apps is an uphill struggle. China is a huge market, and few pay for Android apps there.
One element in the situation is that Google likes free apps that use advertising to create a cash flow because they are big guns in online advertising, and that is how they make a lot their money. This makes it hard to make serious money by selling quality apps in that market. Apple is also getting into advertising so they can counter Google's moves on their own turf.
Google is trying to work out a deal with PayPal to offer more payment options and perhaps figure out a way to make Android apps pay developers dependably. Meanwhile, Apple continues to pay developers big bucks for quality apps that are selling well on the iPhone platform.
I am bullish on Apple and think the Android threat, coming up in the rear view mirror, is going to fall back soon due to quality of the apps they sell, not the shear numbers they boast of. I also will bet serious money an Apple Hobby App Creator with drag and drop programing for making simple iPhone apps will be announced very soon.
(Greg Mills, is 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, www.CottageIndustrySolar.com using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's art web site at www.gregmills.info ; His email is firstname.lastname@example.org )