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Bad Robot? Android Is Limiting Publishers’ Payment Prospects

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Publishers are increasingly confident about the prospects for tablet editions in the post-print area. But, when it comes to actually monetising the opportunity, Android’s limitations mean iTunes Store remains the only real game in town for the forseeable future.

Android-powered tablets are now shipping from several manufacturers and, if they follow the smartphone pattern, will begin outnumbering Apple’s iOS slate. But, whilst publishers are taking the opportunity to sell paid editions through iPad’s on-board app store, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) is restricting many makers of Android tablets from embedding the system’s equivalent Market store.

It leaves publishers without an equivalent, coherent on-board payment ecosystem through which to sell. That’s one reason why, while the number of publications on iPad is booming, you will find precious few on Android.

As we reported in September, though iPad upscales iPhone apps for its larger screen, Google limits Market availability from many tablet makers, saying: “You can have Android Market if it leads to a good implementation.”

Though Google’s Android Compatibility Test can automatically mandate makers of smartphones, makers of Android devices with screens larger than 5.8 inches diagonal, or 480×854 pixels, “MUST” contact Google’s Android Compatibility Team in person, according to the compatibility guidelines. At the least, that likely slows down the development process.

“Setting up a paid in-app subscription is definitely harder on Android because of their commitment to wanting to do things more through the carriers,” says Nic Newman, managing director of tablet developer Tigerspike, which has made seven tablet editions for News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) as well as for other publishers.

“Designing for Android is way more complex than designing for iPad. There are not just three- and 10-inch devices but also a number of different aspect ratios. It has a number of publishers scratching their heads. It’s not as obvious to publishers how they can make money easily through Android as with iPad – it’s a choice of one or the other. The road to monetisation on Android is a lot more complex.”

This relatively difficult Android experience is prompting some publishers to recast their tablet strategy through a more web-centric lens….

The Financial Times, which already had a custom iOS app, has brought its subscription news app to Google’s system using an app that’s mainly a wrapper for content rendered in HTML5. Product manager Steve Pinches now says: “We see touchscreen as a broad category. From a product perspective, different versions will be the same product, with different UIs for small, medium and large screens – OS-neutral.”

In a similar way, the BBC aims to develop only HTML versions of its iPlayer, to ensure usability across a burgeoning array of devies.

Similarly, German newspaper Zeit, which already had an iPad app edition, has now debuted a version of its website custom-designed for tablets generally. The site has been billed as an iPad-specific web version but, as Zeit acknowledges, the happy side-effect is that it works on all such slates, like the coming, confusing wave of Androids.

Just as the abnormal dimensions of its Galaxy Tab meant Samsung had to work directly with Google to make it one of the few Android tablets to carry Market, so, too, The Financial Times had to ride the device maker’s coat tails to bring its app to Android. It recently secured a bundling deal on the Tab for its new Android app, which it says, however, “will run on any small screen or midi-tablet devices”.

This process, whilst seemingly more difficult than developing for iPad, is nevertheless informing how the FT goes forward on a range of devices. Pinches adds: “We have just released the app to Android Market for large screens and are working on a small-screen UI, which will be out very soon – this will be the core platform for mobile.”

For Zeit’s developer, iA, being pushed toward tablet delivery via web is a positive, not a negative. “Print publishers got excited about apps because they finally opened a door to charge for content,” CEO Oliver Reichenstein writes. “But developing an HTML-based news app is not just cheaper and faster, it also gives you more editorial and technical control over your contents. More importantly, HTML-apps are in many ways more convenient for the user.”

Such editions reconnect readers with the web from whence they came – the same web which many publishers have found it hard to profit from. If Android cannot mimic iOS, many publishers may either be unable to start charging for content as hoped on tablets, or will need to take care of payment processing themselves, picking from PayPal and direct credit card billing.

Tigerspike’s Newman, whilst acknowledging the challenges, sees cause for optimism, just not yet: “You’ve got a number of different Android versions out there. It’s only really when we’ve got Honeycomb [a future upgrade] we will have the right operating system for tablets.”

4 Responses to “Bad Robot? Android Is Limiting Publishers’ Payment Prospects”

  1. I’m a publisher who is currently waiting to for his app to be approved by Apple. We would love to also have our publications on the Android problem but this article mentions plenty of the reasons holding us back.

    For me, screen size is the biggest issue. The Galaxy Tab is so far the most successful Android tablet if you want to call it that. On a 7″ screen you spending more time zooming than u do actually reading which takes a way from the overall experience.

    I’m not looking to do an RSS type newspaper app or a replica app. I’d like to be able to give the Android readers the same kind of experience they’d get on an iPad and even utilizing html5… the experiences will still differ dramatically from the small to larger screens.

  2. Come now Erik, you are taking a worst case scenario now. It’s pretty unlikely if you follow the rules and have a budget of 500k to produce an app that it is going to get rejected from Apple’s App Store. Yes it took Google a year to get Google Voice accepted, but there were other issues involved there…

    You might come from a Java background and find programming for Android easier but the quality of the xcode development kit is far better. I understand that you might not like it or can’t get your head around it and you are entitled to your opinion.

    I think you are trying to justify your decision with your preconceptions though.

    Steve wouldn’t decide that it’s color scheme doesn’t match and reject it. You are being a bit extreme here. In the early days Apple did have issues but there were two sides to that story. One was that Apple was fed up with fart apps and then everyone were saying that the App store was made of fart apps, when it plainly wasn’t. So people were complaining that they were being banned and then complaining on forums that there were too many. Go figure. Since then things are a lot more understandable.

    The rules are far clearer these days and make sense in most cases. So be careful spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt like that around as it makes little or no sense. If you become a developer these rules are now laid out in easy to understand English and are pretty clear.

    The thing is that most people don’t have 500k to spend on an App. By using the 500k figure you are making it sound like it’s expensive to develop for. It isn’t. Indeed many of the people who have made money have done so off the back of a good idea and a 99 buck outlay. For a ton of people that is enough.

    And this is the point. There are quite a few developers who have earned serious money from the iOS ecosystem… Serious money. The sort of money where the figures I’ve seen mentioned from Android developers are iOS developers tax bills.

    At the moment the whole of the Android ecosystem seems to be geared towards giving the apps away and getting a backhander on the in app advertising. Google likes this of course because it means they actually get paid something for their development work. But I ask you, if you take out say Netflix or other services which can be used across all the platforms, is anyone making any serious money from Android Apps?

  3. Android is not intended to become a tablet-ready platform until the Honeycomb version releases next year. Samsung and other manufacturers who desire Market access and insist on jumping the gun, get around this by fully supporting a phone feature set in a tablet body (thus why there is no WIFI-only version of the Galaxy Tab, yet). Google should not be blamed for pragmatically ensuring that its developer tool set and OS are fully ready for the tablet form factor before it officially steps into that market.

  4. I would disagree with a lot of this article. The visual C of iJunk is a lot harder then java. More people are familiar with java and have a base to start from. Yes, there is a lot of screen sizes and differences in the phones.

    I wouldnt say that building an app for the iPad a easy way to “monetisation”. Remember with apple, the windows and doors are locked and Steve Jobs is standing at the door mouthing “Show me the money at you” while swinging the keys around his finger. Android on the other hand, may have its door locked at moment, but they left all the windows open.
    If you where to spend 500,000 dollars on creating an iPad, you have guarantee of its acceptence. Steve could just deside its color selection dosent match what he wants on his ipad and reject it, if he dosent like the content, well you could just be eating $500,000 with no way to profit from it.