The Android Market is like Apple's App Store, Google-style. It's where you go to buy apps, if you use a smartphone powered by Google's open-source Android operating system instead of an iPhone. You can't choose to buy apps for one kind of phone from the other's store; and if you switch, you can't use your old apps anymore, unless the app's developer wrote it for both kinds of phones.
I could show you which apps are in each store, but then this would be a catalog instead of an article. In a nutshell, the App Store is known for its polished, "magical," sometimes whimsical iPhone and iPad apps, like Tapbots'. It's also known for having a huge selection of games, including games from big-name publishers like Square-Enix and EA. Meanwhile, the Android Market's selection more or less pales in comparison, except when it comes to tweaks and customization apps. Like a replacement for your home screen, or on-screen keyboard.
The reasons why are complex, but they boil down to the difference between the two companies: To Apple, you're a customer, and it sells you its finest products. To Google, you're a product, and it sells you to advertisers.
Chasing dollar signs
Apple tries its best to deliver a polished, perfect experience, so good that you'll want to pay for it. To keep that perfection, though, it tries its darndest to control everything. You have to pay $99 a year and get Apple's permission to sell your apps on its App Store, and there's no other way to sell iPhone and iPad apps except to people with "jailbroken" devices.
Google's goal is simpler. It wants to make sure lots of people are clicking (or tapping) on ads. So it lets developers basically run wild and do anything, paying a one-time fee of under $50 to put anything they want on the Android Market without asking permission. Instead, each app asks your permission to do things like access your phone records, and you have to decide whether to allow it or not.
This is partly a good thing, since it allows you to do things that would spoil Apple's "experience" -- like install a new 3D home screen. But it also means the Android Market is flooded with tons of junk apps and soundboards, which do their jobs poorly and are crowded with ads.
Perhaps the best example of Google's "anything goes" approach is an app I just bought for my Android phone, called GrooVe IP. It lets you make phone calls using your data plan. But it's tied to your Google Voice account, and its settings menu is complex and poorly-organized. Plus, it crams a garish green icon into the notification bar at the top of your phone's screen, unless you can navigate the menus well enough to figure out how to get rid of it. The only annoying thing it doesn't do is tell you which "partners" sponsored your phone call.
Google seems to be trying, these days, to make the Android Market friendlier to developers who care about writing good apps. It's introduced new ways of finding apps on the Market, which favor the best and the neatest apps. At heart, though, Google does not really know how to sell stuff. It just knows how to sell people.
For a variety of reasons, I'm personally sold on Android. I like how it works, and I understand what I'm getting. But app developers don't like it as much, because it's harder to work with and they're making less money. That's the biggest difference.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.