32 Comments

Summary:

Many laud Google’s Android Market and its loose barriers to application entry, but that doesn’t mean Google should be totally hands off, does it? Some updated applications are disappearing from the Market on certain devices and it’s taking days for Google to even acknowledge the issue.

As an iPhone user for two and a half years who switched to the Nexus One back in January, I think I have a decent amount of end user perspective on Google’s Android Market. Essentially, it needs work. And while — as demonstrated by Vic Gundrota at the Google I/O event — a web-based Market will eventually shoot apps over the air to your device, why, in the meantime, have applications started to disappear from users’ phones?

Developers updating their current titles have been finding that their software subsequently stops appearing on particular phone models. One Google support thread uncovered by ReadWriteWeb shows this issue reported on June 3 and only just responded to today by a Google representative — in the fast-paced software market for mobiles, that five days had to feel like five weeks from a developer standpoint. And to make matters worse, this isn’t the first time such an issue has cropped up.

Big in Japan, the developers behind the popular ShopSavvy Android application, pointed out a similar issue on their blog last year, saying: “This is worrisome, because most users won’t even realize that ShopSavvy is missing because they aren’t looking for it. How many downloads are we missing? No one knows.” Ironically, ShopSavvy was one of the 10 winners in Google’s own original Android developer challenge — while all developers should be important to Google, surely one of those that helped launch the Android app craze should have Google’s ear. And yet, the problem continues today, even after Google told Big In Japan that the issue would be resolved with Android 2.1.

While I’m not a developer, I’m going to go out on a limb with the idea that this issue is related to Google’s Android fragmentation problem, although some at Google call it a “compatibility” issue. At last check, Android handset usage was equally split between Android 1.5, 1.6 and 2.x. Each new version of Android brings potential API changes and while it’s up to developers to adjust their apps for such changes, Google is the ultimate storefront manager as far as the end users are concerned. As such, Google should be on top of these issues as they happen — if not planning to avoid them beforehand — instead of waiting five days to acknowledge such problems.

Near as I can tell, the very requirements Google has in place to avoid device compatibility issues are related to the current problem of updated apps magically disappearing. Several developers are removing permissions such as RECORD_AUDIO and CALL_PHONE — once they do so and the upload their app, it appears in the Android Market for devices that previously couldn’t find it. It’s a shame that developers are taking it upon themselves to work around the issue, but given the fact that missing apps can’t generate sales, I don’t blame them.

The Google support thread uncovered by RRW shows that the most recent problem has been resolved, and Google says a patch has resolved the immediate issue. So for the moment, it appears that Android developers are back on track, as are customers of their wares in the Android Market. The question now is: How long before the next issue and will anyone at Google notice?

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Google’s Mobile Strategy: Understanding the Nexus One

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. Correct, you’re not a developer. “Fragmentation” is purely FUD.

    1. Aaron Von Gauss Kevin Tuesday, June 8, 2010

      You might have a different opinion if you were say a Samsung Behold 2 owner.

      1. Aaron, you took the words right out of my mouth. ;)

    2. This whole problem had to do with fragmentation – the apps were invisible on Android 2.0 and Android 2.1.

      Having worked with J2ME, I understand why fragmentation issues will send shivers down developers spines, but actually Google has done a very good job handling fragmentation so far – it’s complicated after all..

      The problem here is the response time. Five days or more before Google responds to the problems isn’t okay, I think, and I hope they will try to address problems like this in a more timely manner..

      Of course they cannot respond to every nutcase with a forceclose problem, but this was a real issue and should have been noticed sooner. I wonder what would have happened if RWW hadn’t picked up the story. I suspect it would probably still have been an issue…

  2. It has to be great to be a mobile developer nowadays: Apple could ban you for completely arbitrary and seemingly random reasons, on the other hand on Android apps magically disappear and nobody cares.

    1. @gabriele: It used to be a lot worse. The carriers used to control the storefronts/deck before Apple managed to kick open the door. They are 100x harder to work with than either of these two.

      1. Yep great point. That is so overlooked by the media & Apple haters.

  3. As the Nexus One efforts and no this show, Google may be good with computers but doesn’t really get how to deal with people.

  4. Hi Kevin, people naturally want Google to respond as quickly as possible. In this case, Google responded on the original forum thread today, left a comment on the RWW story, and did a blog post at http://android-developers.blogspot.com/2010/06/application-visibility-issues.html . That’s aside from fixing the bug and getting it live.

    In my experience, there are people at Google listening for issues like this and trying to resolve the underlying issue plus communicate about what we’re doing too. No company will be perfect 100% of the time, but I did see Google work to respond on this (it actually took quite a bit of effort to diagnose what the root issue was).

    1. Matt, first off, I appreciate the direct response. And you’re correct, the issue appears resolved – my post links to the very Android Dev Blog post you mentioned. I’m just wondering why there was no acknowledgment of the problem for five days.

      Perhaps this should be looked at as an opportunity for better lines of communication between Android Developers and Google? Even though the short term issue has been handled (although I’m admittedly curious about the root cause) I’d love for this to turn into a positive long term change for the Android community as a whole.

    2. I’m not sure that it’s completely fixed. I can’t find the Nexus Revamped app either with a manual search or with the second QR code from http://www.stealthcopter.com/blog/2010/06/nexus-revamped-pro-updated-google-android-live-wallpaper/

    3. Matt,
      I agree with Kevin, why did it take 5 days to acknowledge such a serious problem.
      It took us developers a lot of effort to get Google’s attention. I personally tweeted and posted a good part of the day.
      I believe it was the effort of a few popular blog posts that got Google’s attention, more than their own Android forum.
      Anyhow, the problem is solved, but that was the second problem in 2 weeks (the other being the developer console not refreshing). Let’s hope this was the last problem for a while so us developers can concentrate on developing.
      Cheers

  5. Vincent Mac Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    You’re blowing this missing apps issue out of proportion. And this question really wasn’t necessary:

    “The question now is: How long before the next issue and will anyone at Google notice?”

    As far as I know, Google hasn’t been doing this on a regular basis and we should give them the benefit of the doubt. And lighten up already, you’re not even a developer, as you said.

    I expected more from GigaOM.

    1. Vincent, this happened a year ago according to ShopSavvy and it was supposed to be permanently resolved with Android 2.1. Clearly it wasn’t. I encourage you to re-read the quote in the above post and look at it from a developer’s POV.

  6. Ultimately the business interests of Google, Phone Vendors and Carriers are not well aligned. So far Google has spent probably hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and promote Android. What does it get in return? Zero. And the phone vendors also have spent hundreds of millions of dollars. What do they get in return? Negative as well. With all the hoopla on HTC, do you still remember Motorola? You don’t, right? Their hundreds of millions are in the drain now. And that is a reference point for other vendors.

    All this time Apple is reaping billions of sales and profits. Apple can easily do two things: (1) strike a deal with Verizon, (2) lower the price to, say, $50 per phone. Either one of them will knock Android dead.

    Therefore Android vendors have to think about proprietarization in order to differentiate and fend off other Android vendors. That is a natural reaction for survival. They take the freebies from Google, and “privatize” on it. That is the real cause of fragmentation.

    From Google’s perspective, how is it going to recoup the investment? Remember Sun’s Java? Did Sun ever recoup its investment, even after it changed its stock symbol to Java? Of course not. It was a burden and a distraction to keep the Java image. In the end Sun went down, forever.

    So do you think Google can make money from Android services? Enough money to recoup the cost and more? When? That’s a billion dollar question, because the phone vendors, and the carriers will not sit idle and let Google reap the benefits when the day comes, if it does come.

    The Android alliance is out of necessity rather than true conviction. There are so many factors that can break apart the alliance, and leaves everyone, except the carriers, to dust.

    1. Very much appreciate the skepticism.

      Google wanted to drive traffic to its properties from mobile devices. So they did Android. What they do see however is that a mobile will draw far less Google traffic (and ad revenues) than traditional PCs and a part of this is due to the app culture (as against search culture on PCs). In other words, Google has no revenue model (however indirect it could be) for android. This is the harsh truth. Google can still spend enough pocket money on android, but at some point the business managers of profitable business lines within Google will question the rationale. And, whether one likes it or not, business rationality always rules. Passion comes second, if at all.

      On the other side of the coin, device makers are not too happy with Android – because it has reduced the smart phone market to a commodity market for all but Blackberry and iPhone. Meaning, if you are doing android, you are yet another phone maker. I can almost hear C brands smirking at a Sammy “Take you attitude elsewhere. Android is a level playing field”. Which is why Samsung is forced to do a Bada. If HTC and Moto have their brains in the right place, they will make their own badas (or symbians or iOSs or whatever).

      Differentiate or die is the mantra.

      If handset brands or operators are not going build their own differentiators (including proprietary app stores), android will go down in history as yet another unix experiment that lost out to proprietary OSs.

      1. I think Android will actually thrive because they experimented with open source. They embraced the developer community. Basically, Froyo is a refined release of everything the hackers already enjoyed on the N-1. App2SD, v8, JIT, cyanogenmod already had all these running. Someone had even managed a hacked version of bluetooth voicedial. Google paid attention to what the community wanted badly enough to develop on their own, and refined these features. Almost a reverse-piracy act. Which is an excellent business strategy. I think Android will continue to ascend for some time.

        Additionally, Sense is pretty, but it’s being stripped in favor of performance from custom roms. And you can hear the crickets chirp when you ask “who wants Motoblur?” Best thing they can do is offer these proprietary UI’s on a few models, and continue to offer naked Android for power users to dress up as they see fit. Follow the forums, you will find the pot of gold. Shame WinMo never really embraced that. 7 will likely be a #bigfail. XDA would have breathed much more life into WinMo than Zune/XBox team ever will.

      2. Open source is no reason for succcess in the consumer space. Linux never succeeded on the desktop. Consumers don’t care about the jargons, e.g. N-1. App2SD, v8, JIT, that geeks feel so passionate about. They want something that is refined and easy to use.

        Someone may point to Firefox as the example of an open source success in the consumer space. But that is totally different from a Linux PC or mobile phone, because Firefox is the end product by itself. A Linux desktop PC, or an Android phone, must be manufactured by a vendor who obviously has a profit motive.

        Profit only comes with differentiation (or quantity, which is not the case here). Differentiation usually comes from proprietarization. Proprietarization would mean fragmentation.

        Even the Android brand itself will become a hindrance. What does it stand for? Quality? Feature? Google? How can Motorola sell more of its phone against HTC or a Chinese made cheapo which also installs Android?

        Right now vendors jump on to the Android bandwagon because Google is heavily subsidizing the development and advertising cost. But that may not be sustainable going forward.

  7. Android Atlas Weekly 2: Android takes on iPhone 4 (podcast) – CNET (blog) | Apple Product Tips And App News Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    [...] Is Anyone Home at the Android Market or Has Google Gone Fishin'? [...]

  8. Has anyone ever tried "How to place bet on favorites for a Living?"? Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    [...] Is Anyone Home at the Android Market or Has Google Gone Fishin'? [...]

  9. So that’s what happened to Skype and Swype for myTouch– puled before they could appear even when they are being touted by other users.

    1. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe swype was or ever will be in Market for any phone. It’s either packaged with carrier roms, or the beta release from swypes website. Dunno on skype. It shows in the market for my Droid, in both 2.1 and 2.2 versions.

  10. Wow. Is the ‘ride that good? Try getting support for a first gen iDont, then bring up fragmentation propaganda again. In the meantime, enjoy the Froyo that allows you and I to view the Flash content on your site. Cuz Jobs won’t allow Flash for his flock. …fer reals?

    1. Did you just seriously bring up a vendor that supports it’s devices with complete OS updates for THREE FULL YEARS in an article about Android fragmentation and expect people to fall on the side of Android?

      1. The article brought up the comparison of Android vs Apple. And the Dream (Oct, 2008)is still supported by Google, they just don’t force developers to stay behind for it. Personally, from a developers perspective, the Google glitch is far less alarming than the Adobe assassination attempt.

Comments have been disabled for this post