Jan. 26, 2011 at 12:25 PM ET
The dirty little secret about Android is that although it's getting into more hands than Apple's iOS, its users just don't buy many apps. It's not so much that they don't want to, it's that, until now, Google really hasn't made it a priority. But according to Eric Chu, group manager for Android at Google, the company is about to get serious.
Google is "not happy" with the amount of Android apps being purchased, or even downloaded, says Business Insider, reporting from Chu's appearance Tuesday at a session of the Inside Social Apps conference in San Francisco.
One problem is the chaotic Android App Market, which Chu said could do better by providing more accurate recommendations and listing top apps based on usage. (We wouldn't mind seeing a total overhaul with more browse categories and search criteria, either.)
Another issue is billing: Apple has iTunes, which has billing information for 90+ percent of iOS users. Google has nothing like this, so Chu says it is making direct-to-carrier billing a priority instead. Buy an app, and it shows up on your monthly phone bill — a relatively painless transaction.
TechCrunch, which also reported on Chu's appearance, said that another priority was in-app payments: Buying services, updates or new editions — such as monthly magazines — from within an app you already have. This was what helped make iOS attractive to publishing companies, who are now focusing their strategic planning on iPad. A similar pay structure for Android would presumably make Honeycomb tablets like the upcoming Motorola Xoom equally desirable.
Meanwhile, competitors such as Amazon are building their own Android app stores, possibly with more strict criteria. Chu said Google doesn't mind: "Competition is always good," he said.
So what has taken Google so long to realize that the key to lasting smart phone success lies in high-quality, premium apps? Perhaps it's the advertising mindset that drives Google as a whole.
"Google's own interest is more tilted towards a free model," Chetan Sharma, a wireless industry consultant and leading expert on the mobile app business, told msnbc.com. "This doesn't completely align with developers who would rather have paid revenue rather than ad revenue." Chu's statement is indicative of a shift, though.
"The fact that they have been slowly moving to carrier billing is indicative of the realization that they have got to do more to keep developers happy," Sharma said. "I think 2011 will be better than 2010 for Android developers" — those who would like to sell their apps, that is.
But getting their app sales act together is only half of the battle for Google, which has experienced some embarrassing snubs from Hollywood and the big publishers. For Android to attract more premium video services like Hulu Plus and Netflix, and exclusive content like News Corp.'s Daily iPad paper, they might have to do some brown nosing.
"There are larger concerns from content providers and publishers that Google is [unfairly] generating revenue based on their content," says Sharma. Not only did News Corp pull its free versions of Wall Street Journal stories from Google, but when Google TV launched, promising access to major network programming via free websites, those networks unilaterally blocked their video from working on Google TV.
Last fall, a key Netflix product manager specifically said that Android wasn't secure enough for the Hollywood content that Netflix delivers. While the proposed solution was on a technical workaround involving separate Netflix apps for separate device manufacturers, Sharma saw this as another Hollywood snub.
"If it was purely about security requirements, there are ways around it," he said.