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Summary:

Despite a growing number of handsets, the app store to go along with Google’s Android OS faces is getting a thumbs down from developers who complain about slow sales and low downloads, a survey says. Android can’t afford to lose developer attention who have other opportunities.

With dozens of Android-based smartphones likely to be sold by global brands such as Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Dell and Motorola, it’s no surprise that 2010 is shaping up to be a big year for Google’s upstart mobile OS. But increasing skepticism in the developer community over Android and its marketplace masks this good news, a survey reveals.

Skyhook Wireless, a Boston-based company that offers location-based information to businesses, recently polled 30 app developers and asked them about their experience with, and plans for, the Android platform. A survey of just 30 developers doesn’t have enough data for me to take this as gospel. That said, the results should be worrisome to Google and its hardware partners, because there seems to be a general dissatisfaction with the OS and, more importantly, its commercial potential. The results of the survey are also in sharp contrast to findings from other sources such as AdMob and Flurry, which have seen a sharp increase in the number of projects started by Android developers. Over 10,000 apps are available for Android devices.

totalandroiddownloads.pngThe biggest reason for disappointment is the low download numbers — about 90 percent of respondents say their apps have been downloaded fewer than 10,000 times.

Nearly 57 percent of the total polled said they were not satisfied with their profits on Android, while 39 percent said somewhat satisfied. Only 4 percent said they were satisfied with the profits they have made off their Android apps. On occasion we have heard from individual developers who have complained about the Android platform and lack of profits.

To give this some context, there weren’t too many Android handsets available in the market for the first three quarters of 2009. For the longest time there were only two T-Mobile Android phones (made by HTC) being sold. It is only this fall that the number of Android models has gone up, thanks to the introduction of Motorola’s Cliq (which was launched at our Mobilize 09 conference) and Droid. HTC, Samsung and Huawei also have introduced their new Android phones.

downloadandroid3.pngThe low download volumes and lack of profits speak to the fact that app discovery isn’t easy in the Android Marketplace. Having used Android Marketplace for many months now, I have to say the experience is sub-par. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed felt that the Android Marketplace’s design makes it difficult for apps to be noticed. As I pointed out earlier, special marketplaces being set up by phone companies is only going to muddy the waters.

downloadandroid2.pngAnother area of concern for developers: fragmentation that comes with multiple devices from various phone makers running on different carriers. Nearly 46 percent of developers surveyed were certain that different versions of Android would make development difficult.

I still think these are teething issues, and with time, Google and its partners will be able to fix them. The momentum behind Android is too strong. The question is how long it will take. More importantly, will the developers wait around that long, especially since there are other platforms that make money for them? Android’s backers can’t afford to lose developer attention.

Who & What’s to Blame for Developer Woes

  • Developers are concerned that Google Checkout contributes to their low download volumes.
  • 43 percent feel that they would sell more apps if Android used a carrier billing or another simpler billing system.
  • 82 percent of those surveyed feel that the design of the Android Marketplace makes it difficult for apps to be noticed.
  • 68 percent of those surveyed are somewhat or not likely to put further work into their apps, compared with when they first released their app.

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  1. The big question is, can Google/Android afford teething issues? Apple showed them the way very clearly and upped expectations, they could (should) have followed.

    1. I think the big issue here is how fast they can fix these issues. If I remember correctly, even Apple had some early issues but those got resolved and now have been replaced by other complaints.

      With more than 50 million + devices likely to ship in 2010, I bet it is lucrative enough base for developers to wait around. That said: if it takes too long: say more than six months, then Android has a problem. But that is just my opinion. I am sure you will disagree :-)

      1. How quickly? The Android Market Place is only about 3-4 months younger than the AppStore. 12,000 apps VS 120,000 apps?

        Android is far from the all roses we are trying to be led to believe it is. That said, I think Android will do very well as a platform and provide good income to many people; it still has some serious issue to overcome, however.

  2. Shyam Subramanyan Sunday, November 29, 2009

    With the iPhone, many users were already on board in terms of being billed for their purchases through iTunes. It was a quick sideways move to include apps along with tunes without any change required in user behavior. Google has never sold anything download-able directly to a typical consumer through Google Checkout and they do not have a desktop app like iTunes to leverage. It will be interesting to see how the Android marketplace evolves. One more thing – I just don’t trust carrier billing. They don’t get their own charges right.

  3. Justa Notherguy Sunday, November 29, 2009

    I swear, mobile developers complain about more things and do so more often than do French farmers. All that’s missing are the picket signs, flaming tire barricades and video of unplowed fields being drenched in unsold milk.

    All this angst, yet so little agreement on the root of their afflictions. It’s the Android Market! It’s the lack of a desktop market! It’s Google’s billing system! It’s the fragmentation! Chinese rice imports have depressed prices!

    This is not to suggest whinging is entirely unreasonable. Android’s technical growing pains and many iterations encourage a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude. Same goes for the earlier paucity of extant models & participating carriers.

    That said, soon as Android hits a certain point – let’s say 6-10 millions – even 2% downloads means real money. Enough to please everyone? Maybe not, but plenty for talented devs who listen to the users needs and respond with good code.

  4. Conclusion: App Developers have unrealistic expectations of a friction-less publishing and revenue generating channel, and WILL NEVER BE HAPPY.

    Apple, Google, and other should do what they think is best for their platforms. We can argue which approach, if either, is better. But can we stop amplifying the outrage of developers who want something no other developer has ever had?

  5. Found this to be a little too obvious!

    Thoughts here:

    http://zwadia.com/?p=125

  6. I can certainly understand the low number of downloads and developer frustration, when there is still a number of countries where Paid apps don’t yet appear in the Market place on, in my case, an HTC Magic ..half a year after purchase!

    1. the limitations of Paid Market as to do with Google Checkout not being available every where

  7. Valley Bob – “But can we stop amplifying the outrage of developers who want something no other developer has ever had?”

    Good point.

  8. Misleading Article Heading? It should read that developers arnt happy with profits.

    “Nearly 57 percent of the total polled said they were not satisfied with their profits.”

    Aren’t we all?

  9. I have a bug report on the manufactures fragmentation, in case devs want to star it
    http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=4720

    1. And the bug has already been closed as WorksAsIntended. It is becoming apparent that Google/Android doesn’t see the fragmentation issue as a problem or maybe just not their problem.

      1. I closed the bug because, as I said, this is not an actionable bug. For example: when would one close this bug as “fixed”? I can’t see how that would even make sense for this bug: when is “manufacturers should provide same identifiers” fixed? Never.

        Also, it wasn’t clear to me from the specific example that was being used in that bug, but my impression is that this is talking about identifiers that are NOT part of the SDK. If so, this is very much “working as intended” — if you step outside the bounds of the SDK, you have no guarantees about working anywhere. We try extremely hard to make the supported SDK very well defined and consistent across devices. It’s not perfect, and the cases that have come up where there are problems very much need to be fixed, but it is definitely a strong focus. For example, an Android device that ships with Market will have gone through tests that ensure ALL SDK symbols do in fact exist on the device.

        And so I also said in the bug — if there is a specific case of an API that is broken on a device, to file a specific bug for the API that clearly identifies the API in the SDK. Again, as the bug stands, this is not the case, and there is nothing that can be done with it.

        We do care a lot about the compatibility across Android devices. In fact some times I think we care more than many of our third party developers who, after repeated warnings, continue to use private APIs and do other things that we have clearly said will not be compatible. Sure, there have been some specific issues with some devices, but I am willing to bet that there have been just as many issues with developers doing things we have told them is not safe.

      2. Hi Dianne.
        I was the one who opened the bug, meant to be a generalist one, and a reference to all the manufactures/devs fragmentation.
        Inf act what led me to open it, was while talking to two other devs that make apps that I use on my Magic, being faced with several difficulties among the different devices, behaving differently, hence my practical example.
        But if you guys prefer a more passive action, and then handle case by case with each manufacture, instead of pro-actively preventing manufactures to define and make their own implementations of the OS, well, fine by me, as long as you do act on those, and not close them as “working as intended”.
        Cause if you do, you guys will be losing the community devs (sure not all are good coders).

      3. Let me try explaining again — there are already a lot of pro-active things done to reduce fragmentation, a small part being the check I mentioned to ensure all APIs exist.

        If you have ideas for other things to do, sure feel free to open a feature request describing them. If you really want to help, you can even contribute code (tests, whatever).

        But a bug that essentially is “prevent fragmentation from happening” is not useful to anyone. It is not actionable — there is nothing specifically that can be done in response to it, and thus as I said there is no measure to say when it is “fixed”. It clearly is a message bug. So okay, you sent the message. That has pretty much served its purpose, and there is nothing else to be done with it.

        And again, if you have concrete examples of APIs that are broken on certain devices, that is the exact kind of thing to file bugs for, with as detailed descriptions as possible to help them get resolved.

        And you still haven’t addressed the questions I raised about your original example, to please point to the specific official API that is broken and how it is not working. If I want to get cranky, when I look at this exchange — if you want to accuse people of not being pro-active, at this point you can certainly have that same accusation leveled back at you. But I assume you do want to help improve things (and keep them as good as they are, which honestly is not all that bad), as much as others do.

      4. Hi again Dianne.
        I have no intention in getting you, or anyone, cranky :p its enough to pick on JBQ. :p
        I’m just an user, an user that see from out side the box, but also an user that for several years has contributed to several FLOSS projects with all my good qualities and abilities, that usually circle around testing, bug filling, bug triaging, and user support.
        I’ll ask the developers that stated problems with the mention API breakage to file specific bugs on HW, and hope to talk to you again soon.

        Thanks for all your help in making Android all it can be. :D

  10. It is a matter of time. Android OS run devices are just starting to take off.

  11. i like that
    if you replace android by iPhone in the text
    bulk of the article kinda remains true !

  12. A survey of a non-random sample of devs who may or may not make Android apps of unknown type or quality, conducted at some unknown time over some unknown period.

    Useless…..except as FUD maybe. :-)

  13. There’s only one way to increase the number of downloads of your app: write quality apps! One of my apps has been downloaded over 24,000 times with a retenion rate of 69%(not a stellar success, but i’m satisfied).

    1. Mine has been downloaded:
      41273 total
      31997 active installs (77%)

      But it is a free app.

      The paid version with more features/options: 106 total – 102 active installs

  14. This article speaks as if every app developer is entitled to some sort of profit or should automatically be downloaded by 100,000 people. As a G1 user and early adopter, I’ve watched the app store grow. There are numerous apps out there that simply do not supply me with any great benefit, or are poorly written. A quick glance at the games in the marketplace show a few high quality examples that have been well thought out, but many many more that are poor quality clones. While it is difficult for any app to ‘stand out’, the few that have done so provide external links, they provide you with more information and they do what marketing is supposed to do: tell you why they’re a better product.

  15. More importantly, will the developers wait around that long, especially since there are other platforms that make money for them?

    What other platforms? There’s only iPhone and getting noticed and making a living there is a myth too.

    Don’t even bring up Symbian or Palm webOS. Puhleeze.

    And you’ve missed a very real and very bad point: Not everyone can see all the apps. Apparently HTC kicked out an update to the myTouch and the Hero and people can no longer see certain apps in the centralized Marketplace — even ones they have previously bought and are now being told to download an update of.

    1. Mike

      Thanks for pointing out the myTouch update and the fiasco that followed. I will follow up and report on what is the latest.

      Cheers

  16. People have been conditioned to believe that apps should be free. They’re just not into paying for any sort of intellectual property. Even the DRM protected iPhone has a 80-95% piracy rate. After all, music and movies are available on Bitorrent so why should apps be any different? That’s why I don’t believe there is significant money to be made as an ISV. Aside from the random $0.99 hit app here or there most devs will toil for months on an app and barely make a few thousands bucks. They’re better off going to work for a vendor or an IT dept in a large corp. At least they’ll get a salary and benefits.

  17. Being one of the less tech-gifted masses developers are relying on, and my only Android experience being since the public release of my Droid, I have to say that the number one thing holding me back personaly, is that I don’t want to purchase something I will then have to beta-test. Betas should be tested in free trials, especially with the propensity for abandoned apps. Next big issue (at least for myself) is poor organization and administration of the app store. I don’t want to try a new app to find out its nothing more than a glorified bookmark. Google should filter that kind of stuff to its own section. There are other issues, but I think these need to be addressed first and foremost. That said, I use my Droid all the time for net- based activity. Including this response.

    1. The market gives you 24 hours from time of purchase in which to return an app, just so that you can safely try things out.

  18. Richard Bennett Monday, November 30, 2009

    Marketing direct to consumers isn’t exactly in the middle of Google’s skill set, and their group arrogance probably prevents them from seeing where they’re screwing up.

  19. First, it is not possible to develop the types of apps that have made the iPhone popular. Certainly, Facebook and such keep the consumers churning, but the entertainment and games mobile users have become accustomed to aren’t going to be built for some time. Laugh at iFart, but stuff like that sells devices to the non-techies. Try building even the Zippo lighter on Android! Media tools and the basics for animation are missing. They hardly work great on the iPhone.

    Additionally, Android has just gotten to the level of a basic iPhone. I still use the 2G, but my friends are less than pleased with the G1. Droid is quite nice, but still… The app store integration is inconsistent and as Russell Beattie pointed out, fragmentation of a sort is happening. I try to explain myself when talking to Moto people, but fragmentation it is. As much as people despised Microsoft for its heavy hand, imagine if there were a different flavor of Windows for every manufacturer!

    Android will succeed, but this is exactly the space that somebody like Nokia needs to pull together a mobile strategy to match Android and Chrome. They have a WebKit browser, now they need glue. And, they need a browser on the cheapest phones they make. I thought 2.0 would be a solid 1.0, but I really cannot consider Android until 2.5 or maybe even 3.0. Chrome could also be more interesting personally.

    Google needs to focus on their WebKit implementation and rapidly! Also, please stop complaining about developers finding issues with device manufacturers, or show us your apps. It may very well be that developers did not have everything we want, but I have listened to Mac developers, and they were not a happy crowd. Look what happened after they left.

    1. “The app store integration is inconsistent and as Russell Beattie pointed out, fragmentation of a sort is happening.”

      This is very true. Developers are already having issues having to write for Android 1.5 and then 1.6 and now 2.0 while maintaining compatibility with the older releases. Android 2.0 is Droid only, unless you’re running the Cyogen mod on a rooted phone. It’s a disjointed mess. The Android Market might have a lower bar for entry, but the quality issues are painfully obvious.

  20. As a long time Apple, windows & Linux developer, writing’s code for Apple platforms have always been a pleasure. I hope Google does not Microsoft mistakes not listening to its developer’s base. Also, Apple store is way ahead of Google Marketplace.

  21. I’m suprised you would even report on a study that surveyed 30 people. I’m not sure that with only 30 people surveyed, that this says anything at all.

  22. I think the real problem probably isn’t a handful of whiny developers, but a bunch of tech bloggers desperate for site traffic and willing to blow anything possible out of proportion to get some attention. Hmmmm, who could that be?

    1. I am so agree with you. It is obvious that as a app developer myself, I will not be excited with the number of download, but that is a given, since the Android have only been released for little more than a year. Would any serious app developer work be happy or have unreal expectation with Iphone first year release. I am also agree that this blog just wanted to people to read is stupidity blog by given such title.

  23. ambarish malpani Monday, November 30, 2009

    Hi Om,
    One thing you might not be accounting for, is that Android still mainly attracts geeks, who like open source and free stuff. We are looking for lots of power (knobs and dials) and functional UIs (rather than pretty UIs).

    As the Android UI improves (becomes prettier, more polished), you will see the app get into the hands of non-geeky users, who will be more willing to pay for apps.

    The current users between iPhone and Android differ the way IE and Firefox/Chrome users differ today….

    1. Exactly. iPhone users want to be entertained even if they have to pay for it, but like all geeks, android users believe they can always have what they want for free

  24. ambarish malpani Monday, November 30, 2009

    Hi Om,
    2 posts I had made on my blog a few days ago:

    1. Why App Developers Aren’t Seeing As Much Revenue
      http://funwithandroid.blogspot.com/2009/11/android-marketplace-why-app-developers.html

    2. Making money on the mobile applications
      http://funwithandroid.blogspot.com/2009/11/making-money-on-mobile-applications.html

    Comments welcome!

  25. Its certainly clear that the iPhone has delivered a solution.Call it a real need or gadget-lust or me-too , but its an Apple solution.

    Your focus is on these apps. I think Apple’s success is how well it has melded Apps and its base-product together. Where google is lacking is not yet clear.

    Apple takes the same sort of design approach in managing its mall-stores – the ‘experience’ is matchless. Google doesn’t have the benefit of a store to perfect its ideas. It has the raw power of algorithms – not sure if that will do the trick.

  26. While there is an “inevitability” meme to Android, if for no other reason than the anyone but Apple crowd NEEDS an alternative, the jury is out.

    The fragmentation challenge of supporting a heterogeneous platform across form-factors and carriers is far harder than most recognize since it’s the consummate highest common divisor v. lowest common denominator topic.

    As a developer, do you wait until one killer form-factor emerges and develop around that feature set, ignoring a bunch of other handsets, installed bases? Do you focus on a global subset, and get sucked into the multi-handset tweak/debug/QA test lifecycle?

    Plus, many forget how much the iPod media player + iTunes Client & Media Marketplace acts as foundation/feeder to the overall user engagement and monetization workflow that consumers happily default into with iPhone (and iPod touch).

    So much of the Google DNA is about loose coupling and ‘good enough,’ which is a buzz kill when you have experienced best of breed, tight integration and of course, a deep, deep library of media and apps with iPhone.

    Only point is that Android has a longer way to go to realize its inevitability premise than most realize, and a corporate DNA that while a great fit for the web, is somewhat at odds with what consumers expect in mobile, post iPhone, something that I blogged about in:

    Android vs. iPhone: Why Openness May Not Be Best
    http://bit.ly/4lfbF

    Check it out, if interested.

    Mark

  27. Its all about billing. End users are not familiar with google checkout.
    Apple is a unique situation because of iTunes and its billing relationship with users.
    If the Android app store is going to gain traction then it has to offer operator billing, but they need to play hardball with the operators over revenue share.
    Anyone working in mobile content knows the shocking cut they take- 50% is the norm.
    Its a ‘take it or leave it’ deal the mobile content industry has had to suffer for years but maybe Google can bang their heads together and sort this out ?
    But these guys have their heads so far up their backsides they can’t see the light.Android needs developers and they will only stay if they see theres revenue to be made.
    If you make it difficult for mobile users to either a ) find and discover content / apps. b) offer them a difficult or unfamiliar payment process to purchase content / apps then you are in trouble. If you have both problems then alarm bells should be ringing.

  28. Holy crap! 30 developers? Are u kidding me? You all never took statistics did u? Your confidence intervals are probably so wide that u can’t see them! Should have conducted a stratified random sample and stated the parameters. All you’ve shown here is that you are capable of conducting a biased/unrepresentative sampling and basing a pointless article on it. Congrats idiots.

  29. how many developers? 30?

    Who cares how many apps Apple has if they’re craptacular? Out of all those apps in the store i only have about 30 on my iPhone. So stupid. You have tons of calculator apps, tons of tip apps, etc. WHO CARES??

    Give me Google Voice AT&T!! Im so done with this iPhone 3g of mine. Its so 2007 anyway. Im jumping ship to Android.

  30. Not having a big enough customer base is the only problem really that I see right now. With 50 million customers coming up soon (is that really!) that problem not only would be gone, this turns into a great opportunity for developers. Once apps begin to sell and profit starts coming in, developers will be motivated enough to produce more apps.

  31. I also find the lack of a desktop market the biggest disadvantage. The popular site http://www.cyrket.com clearly showed the need for it. And what does Google do? They take down the site, but provide no substitution! You would think they put more effort in their market, but it just merely works.

  32. This is a shame. Although I’m an iPhone user, I recently checked out a Motorola Droid phone at Verizon. And I have to say that I think the phone itself is easy to use and (in my opinion) will be able to compete with the iPhone in time. I hope they can work the bugs out.

  33. Apple will always have their share of the marketplace and be handsomely rewarded. However, I think because we love technology so much (i. e. people that read a board like this), we forget that we are a miniscule segment of the population.
    Android and cheaper smartphones will dominate ultimately; I mean does it really matter that Apple has 120,000 apps when an iPhone user probably only regularly invokes 5-10 of them?
    Apple is a g-damn religion for a lot of people. But I am willing to bet that the majority of the population are like me. I find it very un-american to buy music from the iTunes shop and still not truly own it. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are simply different sides of the same coin. The world is going horizontal not vertical. I will by my own phone and choose the network that gives me the best deal. Oh one last thing – you app developers (or as some noted – french farmers) get over yourself – your younger brother or sister will build the same app for a lot cheaper than you think you’re worth.

  34. To all app developers I have not bought a lot of apps yet. but i will. new to Android 1 month. My Sprint Samsung Phone is a bit buggy with Android 1.5 cupcake running on it. I am waiting for the 2.1 Android update 1st half of 2010 per Sprint. Then I will be buying apps. I can see maybe 500.00 a year on apps between my wife and children and of course ME..lol. So hang in there this is going to get you guys rich. Just spend the time to make quality Apps. If it starts turning into garbage it will lose its appeal. Android is TOO early to give up now. I predict this is going to be the PREMIER system with a year.

  35. I read this article and had to stop. This is such a horse sh*t artile. I hope you didn’t get paid because I seriously wish I had you job and could release this crap. You spoke with “app developers” meaning people who have been clearly developing apps for the iphone before android. Apple created the app craze with their iphone. You pull data and say that downloads per platform is one reason. Is it MAYBE a problem? Right now for the $ it is. However the simple fact is people don’t like apple. It is love hate among people who actually know tech/computers. Those of us that are serious about wanting the functionality of an iphone, but not apple or at&t’s horrendeous coverage, have went to android. I have the droid and it blows the iphone out of the water. OS 4.0 has “limited multitasking, folders, categories…etc.” Guess what my jailbroken iTouch has done that for a year and the droid does it without the “limited” portion.

    I have developed an iphone app and it is not cake. I am not going to bring up an argument between the SDKs since I have not developed an android app yet. However, I would like to return to the android platform and the users who tend to use it. We only download what we want, with the occassional app whore. On the app store there used to be an “I’m rich” app which was some ridic amount of money (I think about $1000) that just said you are rich with a single image. Iphone is shoved down at&t users throat and the app store is treated like a nickle candy shop. So why would developers side with iphone? Simply because the app store is similar to myspace now. Even if you app is terrible somebody will download it if its flashy enough.

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