Android is buzz among apps makers

Android is buzz among apps makers

Michael Novak, who organizes a gathering for developers, says he no longer gets blank stares when he mentions Android.  One software developer, James Englert, 26, had just released his first application for Android, Google’s operating system for cellphones. When asked, he tossed out an estimate for his take from sales of the app, a simple programme that shows train schedules: “$1 to $2 per day.”

The room erupted with laughter. “That’s pretty good money,” he protested over the clamour.  The others could relate to Englert’s situation because writing Android software is not yet a ticket to financial success. Even as Android sales surge — Google says it is now activating around 200,000 phones a day — the market for Android apps still seems anemic compared with that for Apple and its thriving App Store.

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Experts and developers say that is in part because Android market, the dominant store for Android apps, has some clunky features that can be annoying to phone owners eager to make a quick purchase.  For starters, Android uses Google Checkout rather than an online payment system that more people are familiar with, like PayPal. As a result, many Android developers make their apps available free and rely on mobile advertisements to cover the cost.

But that tide is starting to turn as Android’s popularity continues to swell and Google takes steps to smooth out some of the wrinkles.  Andy Rubin, Vice President for Engineering at Google and primary architect behind Android said there were 270,000 developers writing software for Android, and number of programmes available for download in the Android market has swelled to more than 100,000, a threefold increase since March.  Developers can feel the shift in momentum. Perhaps the biggest point of friction for Android is the same thing that led to its success.

Because Google makes its software available free to a range of phone manufacturers, there are dozens of different Android-compatible devices on the market, each with different screen sizes, memory capacities, processor speeds and graphics capabilities.
An app that works beautifully on, say, a Motorola Droid might suffer from glitches on a phone made by HTC. IPhone developers, meanwhile, need to worry about only a few devices: iPhones, iPods and iPads.

When Rovio, the Finnish software development company behind the popular iPhone game Angry Birds, decided to release a version for Android, the company spent months testing the game on a variety of devices to make sure it was up to par.  But developers also say that charging for apps simply may not be the path to profit on Android. Google says it hopes to introduce a transaction feature for Android software that will allow purchases within apps, to help developers make more money.

Developers do say that the freedom of Android is a welcome alternative to Apple’s tight control. Android developers have more rein to tinker with the phone’s native functions, like the address book and the basic interface, something Apple has not always allowed. And Apple screens all apps before they can reach its store, while Google imposes no such restriction, relying on Android users to flag malicious or offensive apps.  Also unlike Apple, Google does not charge developers to sell their apps in its storefront.

More resources

Developers are not abandoning iPhone for Android. Instead, they say they are slowly starting to devote more resources to Android in the hope that those efforts will pay off. They also note that it is a lot easier to stand out in a pool of 100,000 apps versus 300,000, the current tally for Apple’s store.

Analysts say that if Google wants its mobile software to succeed, it will need to make sure that developers do not lose patience with Android — particularly in light of new competition, including the slate of Windows 7 phones from Microsoft and the iPhone’s inevitable expansion to other carriers in the United States besides AT&T.  Rubin said he was not worried about rivals’ tempering the momentum of Android because he believed its future would stretch past the cellphone, to tablets and other devices yet to be conceived.

“The promise of Android goes beyond one device,” Rubin said. “We’re going to see products running Android that no one has ever envisioned possible.”

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