Google's Underdog Eyes iPhone's Lead in Apps
While Apple continues to dominate, Google-backed Android's download store is open -- but not very crowded. But that may change.
While Apple's iPhone App Store has clearly emerged as the Big Man on Campus when it comes to mobile downloads, the Android Market -- the download center for the Google-backed smartphone operating system -- is shaping up like an awkward, underweight freshman.
The iPhone's storefront also had a stronger opening -- debuting with more than 10 times the applications Android offered when its market went live a month ago, when it launched with just over 60 downloads.
Yet even thought it may not win the popularity contest, don't count Android out yet. After all, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is wagering that there's a good chance for the class geek to show up at the reunion driving a sports car with a beauty queen on its arm.
The secret is in a rabid developer base, it said.
"We've had hundreds of developers registered, and there are 370 free apps are available in the [Android] catalog," a Google spokesperson told InternetNews.com. "We are pleased with the positive response from the developer community."
Currently the top Android favorites are Pac-Man, the price-comparison engine ShopSavvy, MySpace Mobile, The Weather Channel and ringtone editor Ringdroid, according to Google.
Other software offerings include a nightlife entertainment tracking application, a virtual closet organizer for fashion-savvy users and a guitar-playing tutorial.
While they might seem fairly trivial, such applications are behind a new front opening in the realm of mobile devices, where stakeholders are seeking new features to entice users.
As a result, the trend has seen a slew of big-name handset makers and carriers line up behind Android. Members of the Open Handset Alliance -- the group officially overseeing Android's development -- include manufacturers LG Electronics, Motorola and Samsung, and carriers like Sprint, T-Mobile and NTT DoCoMo. (Google remains the chief backer behind the software, however.)
Meanwhile, Research in Motion -- maker of the popular BlackBerry line of devices -- has announced plans for its own mobile downloads store to launch next year. At the same time, Nokia, the world's largest phone maker, has unveiled an ambitious plan to open source the Symbian operating system, a move that could encourage greater development on its devices' platform.
Already, Google said it's finding that downloadable software is a major draw to the new T-Mobile G1, the first Android-based device to hit the market.
The company claims "nearly 100 percent" of G1 users have stopped in the Market to download software, but declined to provide InternetNews.com with further details.
The G1's exclusive U.S. carrier, T-Mobile, and its manufacturer, HTC, also have not released device sales figures, making it difficult to determine the actual number of G1 users.
For its part, however, Google is optimistic growth will continue, given the involvement by the open source software community. It also plans to provide developers with analytics tools to track usage statistics once paid applications are allowed in the Market, beginning in early 2009. (The iPhone App Store offered a mix of free and fee-based applications since launch.)
Google also noted that Android software can be offered by any third-party developer, and doesn't have to be distributed only through its storefront -- unlike the Apple iPhone strategy, which tightly reviews and controls software development and distribution channels.
A user ratings and comment system in the Android Market is similar to the YouTube model, Google said -- a fact that it expects will also aid in its popularity. However, G1 users must first install an application before they can rate it.
"Good applications will have more positive comments and high ratings, and bad applications will have the opposite," the company said. "User comments will provide additional information and allow the community members to share feedback with one another and with the developers."
Now all that's left is to do is watch and see whether the Android Market matures as quickly as has Apple's App Store -- and, with vendors like Research in Motion waiting in the wings, whether it'll be able to take on competition from next year's freshman class.
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