Google's Improving the Android Market–Finally

There are signs that Google may finally be recognizing the importance of a well-run app store, after launching two substantial updates to the Android Market in the past two weeks alone.

Late yesterday, the company said its app store was now going to support carrier billing on AT&T, its second such deal in the U.S. outside of T-Mobile USA. Earlier this month, it rolled out a series of updates to its user interface that not only make it easier for users to navigate, but also for developers to monetize their applications.

Hopefully, the moves are only the beginning.

Despite Android’s meteoric rise to activating 300,000 handsets a day, the application market is far from matching the capabilities of Apple’s App Store. The biggest difference is that Apple’s iPhone has a built-in monetization platform via iTunes, whereas Android has been mostly limited to its own checkout payment platform and credit cards.

The downside to this is that paid applications are only available in a fraction of the countries where Android is sold. And there’s no official way to make in-app payments, so developers who want to give their apps away for free and then charge for items within, for instance, a game are out of luck. The lack of payment options have resulted in fewer high-quality apps, and fewer high-quality games.

If Google wants to be a worthy competitor to Apple, now is the time for the company to create a healthy and active ecosystem for Android applications.

We’ve heard it’s simply a matter of resources and priorities, but how much longer can this wait?

On monetization: There’s no excuse for Google to support only its own checkout platform and two U.S. carriers. Not long ago, there were rumors brewing of a partnership with PayPal, but now that seems to have stalled. Making payments as seamless as possible is a no-brainer.

In the meantime, there are plenty of options it could investigate, such as Amazon Payments, or Zong or Boku, which could integrate carrier billing on behalf of Google.

A number of the third-party players have already worked around Google to create in-app purchasing platforms. In yesterday’s announcement, Google promised to continue to partner with more carriers in the future, but with only two such partnerships after more than a year, the pace is not optimistic.

On organization: A number of new features announced on Dec. 10 will also help developers monetize, by simply making a better organized app store.

It’s added new categories for widgets and live wallpapers. It has also created a “related content” section on each app page that details applications of similar interest to help with promotion.

However, one of the biggest updates is a change in policy from a 24-hour refund window to only 15 minutes. Previously, consumers would buy a game, play it for a few hours hours and then return it. The 15-minute window gives users enough time to decide whether an app is worth it, but not enough time to get sick of it.

In addition, the Market just looks nicer. Better graphics and a more logical layout.

Perhaps, Google’s New Year’s resolution will include more Android Market updates.


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