You just finished creating the next killer Android app. You spent countless hours coding it, a lot of late nights tweaking the user experience, and nearly pulled your hair out before squashing that elusive bug that seemed to rear its ugly head only once every 5,000 passes through your main loop. Now you have a decision to make about where to distribute your masterpiece.
Unlike Apple’s iOS platform, Android lives and dies by the age-old adage that there is more than one way to skin a cat (and, no, we’re not talking about actual cats here, so please keep the hate mail to a minimum). Android apps can be distributed via the Android Market, the Amazon Appstore, and GetJar just to name three options. Then on top of existing markets, Android apps can be “side-loaded,” which is a technique where users download an app directly from the developer’s website.
There are lots of choices on an open platform. And in the spirit of openness and getting your app on as many devices as possible, a logical first thought is to distribute your app using as many venues as you can. While I’m certainly not a proponent of the-more-the-merrier approach, I do think it merits consideration. I’m by no means an authority on successfully marketing Android apps. However, I have had an app in the market for over a year now that has garnered a respectable following within its vertical market.
In the beginning of the distribution process, my development team and I chose to allow users to download our app from the Android Market or directly from our website. More recently, we’ve made the app available in the Amazon Appstore as well. Each of these distribution channels has positives and negatives. The following observations are based on my experiences of distributing an app in the Android Market, the Amazon Appstore, and a developer site.
Google’s Android Market
You’re missing a huge opportunity if you don’t release your app in this venue because the Android Market app comes installed on every Android device worth its salt. However, my experience with the Google Market has been less than perfect.
- Makes it easy to get your app into the market fast. There is no review process, so you can get your release to the masses in minutes and update your binary as frequently as you like.
- The developer’s console offers a number of interesting metrics. It’s not just about the number of downloads, but also about the types of devices your app is running on, the version of Android those devices are running, the geographic location of your users, and total vs. active downloads.
- Users’ phones are usually set up by default to get apps from the Android Market.
- Google’s app rating and user comment mechanism is a mess. Random users can give your app poor ratings and post derogatory comments, and you have no recourse or way to contact these users. For example in a 1.0 version of our product, a user posted a comment warning other users not to download the app because of a bug. The bug was legitimate and in a couple of hours it was fixed, and a new version replaced the buggy one. However, more than a year later that comment is still there, possibly deterring new customers from downloading the app.
- While Google provides an array of metrics, there is quite a lot of debate in the Google code forums about the accuracy of these numbers. Particularly, how Google determines the active vs. actual downloads on a given day is a mystery.
- It’s downright difficult at times for users to find your app in the Android Market.
- While there is no charge to download my app, I’ve read a number of complaints about the Android Market still not allowing users to sell apps in certain countries.
The Amazon Appstore is a new kid on the block, but don’t let that scare you away. Amazon is the undisputed heavyweight when it comes to selling stuff on the Internet, and its on-device experience and the web version of Amazon Appstore are top-notch.
- Amazon’s store does a better job of marketing your app than the Android Market. Amazon’s Appstore presents the app in a more appealing manner; it’s easier to find apps in the Amazon store than it is in the Google Market; and every app description that is submitted gets read over and edited by their professional marketing staff at no charge.
- Amazon has the shopping cart experience down to a science, and users who have ever bought anything on Amazon.com will find it simple to purchase and download your app.
- The tools Amazon provides developers on the backend to track their sales are what you’d expect from a company that has been processing online transactions for third parties via the Amazon Market Place since 1999.
- In my experience, Amazon’s review process for approving apps and new versions of those apps is slow. While I don’t mind waiting 10 days to get my initial release of the app in the store, it’s very frustrating to wait 10 days to get a bug fix to my users.
- Users must download the Amazon Appstore app to their phone using the Android Market, and then they must configure the settings on their phones to allow apps to be downloaded from unknown sources. This last step sometimes scares away casual Android users, which is ironic since apps downloaded from the “unknown source” (the Amazon Appstore) have been reviewed for both content and possible malware injection, whereas the apps in the Android Market have not.
- Since I haven’t had my app in the Amazon Appstore for long, I can’t comment from personal experience on the download numbers. I’ve read posts in the developer forums that suggest only one download from Amazon’s store occurs for every 10 in Google’s. The general consensus seems to be this will improve with time as people become more aware of the Amazon Appstore, and more devices ship with Amazon’s client pre-installed.
Distributing an app via your website
Distributing an app via your website
There is nothing stopping you from posting an APK on your website and handling downloads and sales that way. It’s a good way to provide your app to users who have trouble with more traditional marketplaces because of their geographic location or the limitations of their Android-powered device. I don’t suggest this approach as the sole distribution channel except in very specific cases.
- You get full control of when your app is available and to whom.
- You can employ traditional web hosting tools and techniques for gathering advanced metrics about your users.
- There are no fees associated with distributing your app this way, so if you are charging for your app, you don’t have to give 30% of your profits away to the distribution channel. (A 30/70 split has become the defacto profit sharing model for the majority of app stores these days.)
- You become responsible for marketing your app, implementing a payment system, and keeping up with who has purchased your app so that when your customers upgrade their devices they aren’t charged for your app again.
- All the major app markets available today handle notifying users of updates and installing upgrades and patches. If you choose to distribute your app from your website, it’s up to you to build this non-trivial functionality into the app itself, along with the necessary backend web services to support the notification and update process.
- Users will have to open their devices up to unknown sources, and without a “market app,” you’ll have to instruct users on how to clean up remnant APKs off their devices after installation and/or when downloading new versions.