One of the promising selling points of Android, for carriers, was that, unlike Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), they would have more potential to get involved in the apps ecosystem — namely in areas billing, where they could make a cut on purchases and keep some “ownership” of their users. In reality, that has not come to pass in a wholesale form — but there are advances being made. Today, Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) announced that it would start to implement carrier billing on the Android Market, laying claim to being the first mobile operator in Europe to do so.
The service, which is first being rolled out in the UK and Germany, will be available both to contract subscribers and to those taking a prepay service. While the contract customers will have charges for apps put directly on their bills, those using prepay will have the charges deducted from their topped-up amount.
According to a blog post on the Vodafone developers’ blog, the service will be first available to those who purchase their Vodafone devices via Vodafore retail or online shops — meaning that those who bought them through third-party resellers (such as Carphone Warehouse) will not yet be able to access the service.
The first markets where Vodafone is enabling the service, the UK and Germany, are two of the most advanced in Europe, but it seems that one of the big opportunities with carrier billing will be in those less-developed countries where fewer users have credit cards. Vodafone hasn’t given a roadmap for roll outs in these markets but notes that news will be coming soon.
The service is the second effort that Vodafone has made to carve out some of its own branding and territory within the Android Market. In July, it also launched its own-branded content channel, similar to those that operators offer on Nokia’s Ovi store, where it recommends apps and encourages developers to create specifically for its “microstore.”
But like other operators and on other platforms, Vodafone still has a challenge, in the form of getting developers on board to actually build the carrier billing option into the apps. Vodafone and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) are promising developers that the convenience of carrier billing will make it more likely that users will complete app purchases — something that has proven to be less easy on the Android Market using Google Checkout than on Apple’s App Store using an iTunes account.
Other operators that have implemented Google Carrier Billing include AT&T (NYSE: T), Sprint (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile in the U.S., as well as SoftBank, KDDI, and NTT DOCOMO in Japan. Other options, such as a payment API from Zong, also give developers an alternative way of linking up sales with a carrier bill.