New Android apps a mixed bag, should improve

Some of the new applications loaded to the Android Market since it opened on Monday don’t work very well, crash the phone, aren’t particularly elegant and in one case, uses commands written in Chinese.

But the good applications should ultimately outweigh the bad as developers make improvements to their applications and as the community matures, analysts say.

The G1, the first phone to run Google’s Android open-source software, went on sale last week by T-Mobile USA.

“I believe it will evolve much the way Linux did,” said Carl Howe, an analyst with Yankee Group. In the early days of Linux, developers produced a lot of low-quality applications, he said. With enough bad comments from the community about the applications, developers either improved them or pulled them, he said. Already, many applications in the Android Market have been updated based on user comments.

The Android Market, where phone users shop for and download applications, initially included only applications that Google had approved. But on Monday, the market opened to any developer who, after paying a $25 registration fee, could upload any application.

Since then, many new applications have appeared, including several calculators, to-do lists, weather applications, tip calculators, budget planning tools and flashlights.

JogTracker, an application that uses the GPS (Global Positioning System) in the phone to map out a runner’s route and show distance, works quite well. Another, Gmote, has gotten rave reviews from people who use the application as a remote control for their computers. Users who have a computer connected to their TVs for streaming video find the application especially useful.

While most of the top-ranked applications are those that appeared before the market opened to any developer, a few new ones including a notepad, a dictionary, a language translator and a Yellow Pages application have made it near the top of the list.

The rating system in the Android Market, which lets Google include a list of applications based on popularity, is an important feature in such an open environment, analysts said. “Communities do a good job of weeding out the chaff from the wheat,” said Howe.

That should help users focus on the better applications and ignore the others. “If [bad applications] start to be a preponderance of what people get and if they get frustrated, people won’t stand for it. It’s not worth their time to fight through the bad applications,” said Ken Dulaney, an analyst with Gartner.

Some of the applications that don’t work so well include DroidRecord, which should record audio but doesn’t for some people. AReader is an ebook reader that some users have had trouble with. Some buttons in the application launch windows with instructions in Chinese.

Other applications seem like very early versions. Statusinator is an application designed to let users update their Facebook status and photos. The description apologizes for how cumbersome it is to use: “login is complicated (sorry!). In short, press ‘menu,’ then click ‘login,’ ‘authorize status updates,’ and then ‘authorize photos.’ Each will open a Facebook Web page in which you’ll have to confirm the action.”

The appearance of faulty or low quality applications in the market is a result of its openness, and makes the market different than Apple’s iPhone App Store. Developers must submit their applications to Apple, which examines them and decides whether to include them in the store. That helps ensure that mostly quality applications appear there, Dulaney said.

However, applications in the Android Market have the potential for more functionality than apps in Apple’s store because Android developers can access more phone functions, such as the dialer, Howe said. SpellDial, for instance, is an Android application that lets users spell out and then call someone from their contacts list using the on screen touch number keypad. Without SpellDial, G1 users must slide open the keyboard to type out a name that they want to find and call from their contacts list.

In addition since anyone can build a phone around Android, applications could take advantage of various hardware innovations. While that’s not the case for Apple developers, who are stuck with just one set of hardware specifications, that’s also a benefit for Apple. Developers build iPhone applications based on one set of specifications describing the size of the screen and other features, so their applications are sure to work on all iPhones.

By contrast, it’s unclear what will happen once there are multiple phones running Android on the market. Presumably the phones will have difference hardware capabilities, so not all applications will work on all Android phones. If there remains just one Android Market to serve all phones, that could create problems. “You might have to read a list of requirements to decide if the application will run,” Howe noted.

That means some users could end up buying applications that can’t run on their phones. Google has a provision for that, though. The current Android Market terms state that anyone can return an application within 24 hours for a full refund. For now, all applications in the market are free but by the first quarter next year Google plans to roll out a mechanism so that developers can charge for their applications.

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