Developer William Francis shares his thoughts on distributing Android apps via three channels: the Android Market, the Amazon Appstore, and your website.
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.