2010-12-09

(EN) My experiences with Android Market

So in the last few month I had a number of new apps put in Android Market.
Here I'm trying to document what I learned the hard way regarding best practices.

My background

I'm a professional software developer and consultant doing every kind of Java, C# and even sometimes assembler you can think of.
I did write dozens of large and small commercial and free (as in freedom) desktop, embedded and mobile (Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Linux GPE and Qtopia) applications before coming to Android. I contributed to hundreds more.
On Android I am writing small apps with the motivation of either fulfilling a personal need and/or to learn my ways around new APIs for my day job.
If an app is too useful and was too much work to just give it away for free, I'm offering it for a trivial token price.
1-5eur is no money to even think about. It's a small token to appreciate the work and dedication of the developer.

How market behaves.

Market only works with credit cards.

Being a US company this may be hard to get for Google but people don't have credit cards.
They are simply not as common in many parts of the world as they may be in the US.

You can only have one version of an app in the market.

No beta+stable, no downgrade to the last version if the current is found to have an issue, nothing.
Serious limitation compared to developing applications and publishing them on Sourceforge&co.

Comments are forever.

Comments are not in any way bound to the version that is commented on.
They don't even have a data associated with them.
The username shown cannot be contacted at all.
Users never go back and update a comment they once gave.

Free apps can never get payed.

For some obscure reason you are not allowed to make a free app payed. ever. period.

People never visit the website.

Forget about the website you enter for every product as Google tells you to.
People aren't going to visit them, least of all are they going to give feedback there.

Market licensing is market only

Android Market licensing only works with Android market. AndroidPit has a lib that works with Android Market and AndroidPit App Center but that's it.

Market Licensing is bare bones only.

There is no management-UI for the developer,
there is no buy A get B free,
there is no buy download A for 30 days then buy,
there is no but a reduced price 5 seat license,
there is no floating licenses,
nothing.
It's just a bare bones replacement of copy protection and even in that function it's way too easy to crack.

Best practices.

Release early, release often does not work here.

Coming from Sourceforge&co you may be used to releasing a first version of your work as early as it's basically working. Then collaborate with users to improve it one step at a time.
This does not work on Android Market.
Comments and Ratings for every damn, exotic bug that you could never possibly find without releasing it and having users with that exotic device/account-version/usage-scenario point it out are going to stay. ..forever.
You need good ratings on the very first version for there to ever be users so that a bad comment can have the chance to scroll down at all.
Problem is: only very few people comment at all and the ones who are dissatisfied (even if they are expecting miracles) are the ones most likely to comment.

Cheap Beta, then pricy Release does not work.

So I tried this. Make it clear that it's a beta, that you get it at a fraction of the later price in exchange for bug reports and that the price includes all upgrades to the final versions.
...does not work. People are so used to getting things for free that they complain why the beta is not free.
Problem is: You can't make it free because you'd never be able to make a free app payed later.

Ad-supported apps don't pay off

Compared to even the worst running, cheapest payed apps, these don't pay off at all.
Users are so trained to not click on ads and basically don't even recognize their existence in their field of view anymore.
Just forget about it.
Ads do work on websites that are large and where users spend quite some idle time on the site but not in apps that users open to do a single task on the go and then instantly leave or turn off their phone.

Light+Pro does work

Having a simple "light" version of an app for free and a much better "pro" version payed does work.
However this can only work if there is so much functionality that the free version is still useful at all.
It also more or less requires you to show glimpses of the added functionality of the pro -version in the free one, so that people see what they are missing on.

Conclusion.

Due to limitations that are just ridiculously far from the reality, for single developers you have to sit quietly in your chamber, write an app, test it, update it, improve it, test it in every scenario you can possibly think of, include error-handling with special, translated error-messages for everything that could ever go wrong and everything that can't go wrong.
Then and only then, release it.
Of cause that would mean that your app will never reach that point and thus will never be released at all.
Making any thought about the market itself redundant.

What I didn't try.

I did not try a donation-button or somehow integrating Flattr into apps yet.


* discussion about this post on Market Help Forum (english only)
* Diskussion über diesen Post auf AndroidPit (German only)
* My wiki with Android projects
* All my apps on AndroidPit
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