The Android App Explosion

Android’s popularity continues to swell. Google has taken steps to smooth out a lot of the earlier wrinkles. The Android market is just now exploding to a billion users and getting stronger by the day.

Developers feel the shift in momentum. And the strange thing is that the biggest point of friction for Android turned out to be the thing that led to its success.

Because Google makes its software available to a range of phone manufacturers absolutely free, there are dozens of different Android-compatible devices on the market. Each one has a different screen size, memory capacity, and processor speed and graphics capability. An app that works beautifully on, say, a Motorola Droid will suffer from glitches on a phone made by LG. IPhone developers, meanwhile, need to worry about only a few devices, all made by Apple: iPhones, iPods and iPads.

When the Finnish software development company Rovio. Developer of the popular iPhone game Angry Birds, decided to finally release a version for Android, they spent months testing the game on a variety of devices, just to make sure it was up to par.

A Rovio developer complained that Android was too fragmented, and said it was a lot more challenging than developing for one device, like the iPhone. However, Rovio has that in the end it was worth all the trouble. In the first week, the game was downloaded more than three million times in just the first week. However, the company, which charges 99 cents for the iPhone version making millions of dollars, chose to give away the Android version and include ads instead. This is in part because the Android market only covers 32 countries while the Apple App Store covers 90, and Rovio was concerned that a lot of people who were not able to purchase the app would just pirate it instead.

But developers also think that charging for apps may not be the path to profit on Android. Google, they say, is not associated with things that you have to pay for, and Android is an extension of that concept. Google says it expects to introduce a transaction feature for Android software that will allow users to purchase within apps so developers can make more money.

Developers also say that the freedom of Android is a nice alternative to Apple’s overly tight control. Android developers have a lot more rein to tinker around with the phone’s native functions, such as the address book and the basic interface. That’s something Apple has not always allowed, and Apple screens all apps before they even reach its store. Google, on the other hand, imposes no such restriction, relying on Android users to flag when they find malicious or offensive apps.

Developers are not about to abandon iPhone for Android, but instead they say they are beginning to devote more resources to Android and hoping that those efforts will pay off in the long run.

Analysts say that if Google really wants its mobile software to succeed, it will have to make sure developers don’t lose patience with Android, especially considering new competition that includes new offerings from Microsoft and the iPhone’s inevitable expansion to other carriers in the U.S.

The promise of Android goes beyond one device. New products running Android are just around the bend and they may be more awesome than anyone has ever envisioned possible.

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