Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Low Barrier to Entry Lets Great Android Apps Stand Out


The rise of the mobile app has led to a new category of lifestyle business, where indie app developers work alone at home or in small teams. Even hobbyists have been getting on board, as books that teach programming can be easily found at the library or downloaded online. And for a one-time fee of $45, anyone can submit unlimited free or paid apps to the Android Market, Google's online app market for Android smartphones and tablets.

Partly because of this, the huge numbers of apps on the Market -- Google's smartphones have more free apps than Apple's -- don't mean as much as you'd think. A lot of those "apps" are just hobbyist projects and tests, or else ringtones, wallpapers and soundboards. These apps are quickly thrown together, with AdMob advertisements slapped inn in the hopes of making a buck. Meanwhile, even "name-brand" apps like Meebo and Facebook often look worse on Android than on iOS. This is partly because of the time that it takes to make quality apps work on all kinds of Android devices, and partly because these apps are just side projects for companies focused on iPhones and the web.

So what happens when a developer writes a really good, polished Android app?

It stands out and makes money

Just ask Spacetime Studios, the developer of the Pocket Legends MMORPG. Or Noah Bordner, developer of a game called Battleheart. Games and apps like these are the diamonds in the rough, the polished gems that are featured in Google's Android Market. And they're installed by a larger percentage of Android users than iPhone owners, because when there are fewer stand-out games and apps, each one gets noticed more.

Bordner writes that despite the stereotype of all Android apps being free, "there's money to be made through paid apps" like his. And that the revenues for the Android version of his game (also available for iPhone) are "fairly close, within 80%, of it's [sic] iOS counterpart at the moment." Meanwhile, Pocket Legends was released for iPhone first, but is now making more money from Android users. Pocket Legends uses a "freemium" model, where people play for free but buy add-on content and wares.

The downside of writing for Android

Bordner goes on to explain Android's "ugly" side. Thanks to the Unity3d game development kit, it wasn't hard for him to bring his iPhone game to Android. But because of the huge variety of Android devices out there, and the bewildering customizations that individuals and carriers can make to their phones, "download problems effect [sic] 1-2% of all buyers". These are people whose phones should be able to run the game, but who run into problems getting it installed in the first place.

Despite that, though -- or perhaps because of his personalized customer service -- Bordner's game is rated more highly by Android users than iPhone owners. So despite the stereotype that Android phone owners don't care as much about design, it seems like they know a good game or app when they see it.

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.

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