Image: Screenshot from Google Android Market
Google
Google's Android Market is rapidly gaining "apps," or applications devices running the Android, open-source operating system.
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updated 4/19/2010 8:07:56 AM ET 2010-04-19T12:07:56

Google's Android Market is getting crowded, with 38,000 apps, according to the company's latest earnings call.

Considering that Android gained roughly 8,000 apps since last month, the mobile OS is on pace to top 100,000 apps by the end of the year. But like any app store, the Android Market has a quantity vs. quality issue, and it's getting harder to ignore as Google beats its chest over app counts.

Wallpapers, ringtones, and glorified RSS feeds all boost the Android Market's numbers, but offer little value compared to, say, a great utility app such as Locale. As with the iPhone, which hit the 100,000 app mark last November, it's worth questioning how many Android apps are actually useful.

Android's situation differs from the iPhone because Apple restricts developers, but Google does not. So while Apple cuts down on apps built from templates that merely pull content from the Web and purges"overtly sexual apps," the Android Market can grow in any way it pleases, for better or worse. That's not to say the iPhone doesn't have its share of junk, and with OS 4 adding wallpaper support this summer, you're bound to see worthless wallpaper apps spring up in droves, as they have for the iPad.

Unfortunately, there's no standard metric for quality apps in either store. App counters such as AndroLib don't have a set of criteria they can follow in order to say "Android has 38,000 apps, but 20,000 are worthless." But maybe they should. All it would take is a cross check against a couple extra criteria, such as average user ratings and rate of downloads, to determine whether an app has value.

Even if such a guide existed, would Google or Apple use it? For now, it's much easier to flash a big number in the face of a potential customer than explain why one app market has more substance than the other.

I'm still optimistic that some day, phone buyers will be able to compare the quality of app stores by more than just the total number of apps available.

Maybe when the iPhone App Store hits 1 million apps, and Android hits 500,000, the numbers will become completely meaningless and a better metric will emerge.

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