We stepped out of a killer panel Monday from MobileBeat 2010 titled "How to turn Android into a money machine," and the answer from the panel to that very question seems to be "all the little things." Is it as easy to make money on Android as it is on, say, the iPhone? The answer seems to be "no" at this point, but there's not a single killer reason that Google is lagging behind.

We are going to mash up a ton of smart insights from the panel in one big hodgepodge after the break, so check in for the collective insight from 

  • Peter Farago, VP Marketing, Flurry
  • David Marcus, Founder & CEO, Zong
  • Evan Neufeld, CMO, Groundtruth
  • Darren Cross, Head of Business Development, Fandango & Movies.com
  • David Jones, VP of Marketing, Shazam
  • Moderator: Patrick Mork, CMO, GetJar

So why aren't we hearing more stories of careers made off the Android Market? Well, first thing's last: comparing it to the iPhone App Store puts it at a serious disadvantage. People tend to forget that Apple had years of infrastructure and consumer training built into iTunes via the iPod before the iPhone App store launched - so while Google may have a large and growing Android installed base, that doesn't necessarily mean that all those users are as likely to buy as iPhone users. Toss in that ad revenue isn't as high for Android apps as iPhone apps (about one-seventh or one-eighth), and, well ...

Then there's, of course, the issue of fragmentation -- excuse us, the "legacy" issue -- both across different devices with different capabilities and with different versions of the OS on said devices. The differences in capabilities can get even worse when you consider that pre-Froyo versions of Android can only install on-device instead of on storage, unless you root.

Discoverability: it's tough to find the good apps and Google doesn't seem to be making it any easier as of yet - sometimes "open" cuts both ways. Another thing that might be surprising: the 24-hour return policy can also be a real bummer for developers - with return rates as high as 40 percent in some cases.

Is there one cure-all? Probably not. It's going to me the culmination of a bunch of little fixes that take the Market to the next level. But getting this group together for a skull session is a good start, and we're likely to be doing plenty of talking about this in the coming months.


Reader comments

Can developers make money in the Android Market? [MobileBeat 2010]


Its because of all the CRapps out there. There is lots of free apps too that do the same function as the paid apps or better. Also the 24 hour return policy, you can make a backup of most apps with Astro file manager and some other file managers, then go uninstall and get a refund for the app, then go back into the file manager and reinstall the app you paid for and got refunded for. So basically you are stealing the app, but would lack the ability of getting updates.

The devs and google need to find a better way to protect against this perhaps some kind of check and if the paid app was refunded, it will be deleted from your phone or some other kind of security.

I for one mostly download free apps. I usually buy apps priced at $1. Most I will pay for an app is $3-4. I don't use my phone for games. Mostly facebook, email and text.

The developer has the option to enable copy protection. If it's Off, yes, Astro and others can back it up. If it's On, then it "Helps prevent copying of this application from the device. Increases the amount of memory on the phone required to install the application."

It depends on how the copy protection is done. Yes, root backup tools can backup protected apps, but there are some apps that need to authenticate with a server to work. Those will only work if someone still has the license.

Really?? I know of at least 30 people with Android phones and not one of them are rooted. Most of them don't even have a clue what rooting is and that sites like AC and XDA even exist. The few that do are way too freaked out about borking their phone that they will not even consider rooting. My best friend (Who owns a droid) had a perfect answer for me when I tried to talk him into rooting his phone. His answer to me was "I can barely use windows and set up my wireless router, no way in hell am I going to mess with the software of my phone" so I believe it is a very small % of people out there with android phones who are going to root their phones. And of those I would like to believe it would be an even smaller number that would steal from hard working developers. I really do believe the % lost due to theft should be a non issue for most developers. Worrying about theft well, that's just Greedy Steve jobs thinking IMO. Developers need to make money for the market to succeed and that's why I pay for apps. I want to support this platform and be a part of it taking over the iPhone dominance Steve Jobs has enjoyed. Camera flash and front facing camera on the iPhone 4 isn't forward thinking on Jobs part. It is a attempt at playing catch up to the Android phones. Just one mans opinion, I could be wrong, wouldn't be the first time.

I hope we who spend hundreds to buy these phones and somewhere north of $70 per month to keep them connected won't bulk or cheat for just a couple of dollars per app. How short sighted is that?

Thank you... at least there are some people with common sense.

The question is simple... do you want quality apps?
Put yourself in the shoes of the developers working on the apps. Would you sit at your computer for hours on end coding these apps, only to be shafted by hoards of thieves? I doubt it - and I doubt developers will keep it up either.

When you go to a store, garage sale, etc. - is there always someone there making sure you don't walk out of the store with an item in your hand? Probably not... but that isn't why you don't steal from every shop you walk into. You don't do it because it's wrong - plain and simple.

Think about the effect of your actions when you backup and return an app. It even hurts you. If you have to, don't do it for any other reason than the most selfish of all - to make sure they continue to create great apps for your personal enjoyment.

Just my thoughts...

- AdamZ

The games on Android can't compete due to "legacy" and that can't be helping mattters. Also Android desktop software and music store could help get people into the ecosystem.

It would help if the Android market were available in all countries, cause it has only been available in a handful.

They aren't making money because anyone can pirate 99% of the apps released today. You don't need to be rooted to install them either!

One issue I think is that navigating the market isn't easy. There aren't amy simple ways to filter out apps. You just scroll through a list. Once the market gets better devs will make more money and better apps will come out. Google needs to improve the market and quick.

Paid apps still are not available in my country. I've bought several apps through alternate channels or with developers who use activation codes bypassing the market.
Google, just make the paid market available in ALL countries.

There's fragmentation on the iPhone, too. There are still lots of original iPhone users that can't upgrade to iOS4, and still others that are running the 3G model that won't bother, because it runs so poorly on the device. That's just progress.

Even on the iPhone, most apps are free. On my iPod touch, there are only a couple of paid-for apps. What does help is that most apps are only $0.99 or $1.99, making it almost a no-thought purchase. Gaming does help and the iPhone is a relatively good platform for it. Also, since it is an iPod, as well, and most users have migrated from using iPods, they're used to purchasing music for it, and app purchases are simply an extension. It's a mindset.

This lack of purchasing apps is something Google needs to work out fast. If consumers aren't willing to purchase, many developers won't even bother with it. If they let this mentality last, it will be a hard sell down the road to get developers to take the platform seriously. It seems to be suffering the same fate as Linux, itself, where player like Adobe won't bother with it because of the whole attitude of not purchasing anything by the users.

Sadly it sounds like you never got you use the original Beautiful Widgets app. It is spot-on and world's better than Weather Widget Donate (I own both...). Even the pop-out weather animations are perfect... (not full-screen like the newer versions. Most people still use it instead of upgrading.

- AdamZ

This is kind of why I hope HPalm does well. WebOS was much better than Android in this regard, and while I do love my EVO.. I really only got it to hold me over until, HOPEFULLY, Palm releases another badass device.

WebOS had some great apps and also amazing games. While I rarely played the games, the fact they had them along with a better market than Android was a plus.

the palm app store is pretty great, and I have so much hope that they update their hardware and release a HUGE software update. I love web OS, and would love to try it again some day, but I didn't even realize how many features it was missing until I got my evo, and I had it totally modded and patched. Good luck palm/hp!

I don't buy into the fragmentation talk. There are very few API features that make developing solely for 2.1 or 2.0 worth while. My app uses the base API of 1.6 and I can get to 75% of the phones out there. If anything I'd say there are no good ways to advertise your app unless you want to spend a grand. It's hard to get noticed in the marketplace.

Agree 100%.

I have tho, found success in using House Ads thru AdMob. Even if the ad you're going to display as a House Ad is a paid app, you can still use your existing customer base to promote a new app. The catch is you don't make money off House Ad clicks. Then again, the alternative is to pay for an ad campaign.

fragmentation to where people are not sure that the app will work with their respective phones, lack of good games, market needs to be better (and searchable with ability to install apps online; like appbrain but straight from google since 90% of android users never heard of appbrain) and the lack of space for downloading apps (for those who don't have the current generation of android phones and the extra internal storage or those who will not get froyo). I have a Sprint Hero and can't download many more apps... I am constantly deleting ones I have to replace it with another app. Why would I buy apps when I'm not sure I have room for them.

Android users are cheap. Plain and simple. If it ain't free, many don't want to download it.

Showed friends with Android some of the stuff I have. First response is: "That's cool!" After getting the price (sometimes as low as $0.99) it changes to: "Naw, that's alright."

It's not just android users,and I resent the generalization here. All app stores will show a lot higher sales figures on there free stuff, its human nature to take what don't cost first if an app that is free but has adds to support the development dose exactly the same as an app that costs $2 then why pay the $2. The trick is knowing how to market your product correctly by using the free version as an enticer and not "expecting" people to dish out its called proactive marketing. As a dev you need to entice payment in a polite and informative manner without sounding desperate. Personaly I prefer to pay to show my support and out of 37 apps I have on my device 11 are paid for and the rest are things like googlemaps aroundme exs. There are many ways this can be done and basic sales/marketing tactics still need to be employed even more so if your not face to face.

Google needs to fix the apps market. Maybe even something automated as in if app has less than 3 stars and been at the market for 2-3 months with certain amount of feedback votes it's getting removed and developer is notified that his app is utter shizz.

Then, the Android app market would plummet to just 10 apps! Just kidding... :o) Honestly, I only partially rely on user ratings. If you read many of them, you'll see some of them blast them for dumb reasons, yet others heap nothing but praise on them. It's just an opinion, and nothing more.

The problem with that are all the apps that say "ONLY FOR DROID/NEXUS ONE/EVO" really clearly in the description and then the first three pages of comments are "Sucks, crashed my Hero, uninstalled"

One of the first things I noticed on my first Android phone was how BAD the market was. Not because of the apps, but because of how hard it is to find any good ones. They are there, but you will never find them. 9/10 of the apps I have now have been from recommendations by word of mouth(forums, blogs, friends). The others were the "Recommended" apps by the phone service provider.

I would buy more apps if these two issues with market were resolved:
1) be able to filter the apps, ie. Rating, cost.

2) I only use one card (AmEx) to make purchases, but it only allows me to purchase apps listed with USD. Market should set the denomination based on region. There are a lot of good apps I don't buy because they are sold using yen, euro etc.

As a developer, I've got a few distinct wishes:

1) Being able to purchase an app off the web. The big reason I have for this is marketing -- currently there's no good place for me to link a banner ad or other promotion to. This means the user has to manually search for my app in the marketplace to buy it, or scan a QR code. Not exactly impulse-purchase friendly. This is being taken care of with 2.2, but it won't be something I can rely on for a long time after that (the vast majority of the phones would need to be on 2.2).

2) Better descriptions in the listings. Not even much longer necessarily, but a dedicated changelog space (for example) would be fantastic, especially if it maintained history. Dedicated space to link to a video, or a free/paid version, etc could help a lot.

3) Tagging for the listings ("aquarium", "live wallpaper", "fish", "etc"). Currently, not only am I limited to 325 characters (about 30 of which have to go to my current changelog entry) but that couple of sentences I DO have had better include as many relevant search terms as I can manage! A place to enter a dozen or so tags would go miles to making the description space good for actual description. Come up with a big list of standardized tags and put them in a drop-down to help keep it organized.

4) The ability to respond to comments. I mean really, if I'm the developer let me post comments/replies freely. I'm thinking the eBay feedback mechanism here. It's agonizing to see somebody post a blatantly wrong negative comment and there's nothing meaningful I can do about it.

Personally, I've been doing okay with the market overall, but that's because I've focused on something of a niche with some definite consumer appeal (I've made several live wallpapers, like Silhouette, Galactic Core, City at Night, Aquarium Live Wallpaper, etc. Check here if you're interested.). It IS hard to find things on the market and with only the 325 character description to convey ALL your information, it's hard to explain all your features even when the customer does find your item.

I have to agree here totaly I am not a dev but every app I have looked at is the same thing it won't open 1* for a live wallpaper I mean realy if the dev could have
1:more space to write a detailed description and a how too for the simpletons out there.
2: add a vid of it running showing of its features, it would go a long way to kulling the muppets who flame a perfectly good app coz there thick as tish and allow people to take a look first.
3:the option to confront mindless idiots who just like to moan or thank somebody for a nice comment this shows that the dev is watching dose take notice and the app is still being supported.
4:compulsary images, so many apps on the market don't even show a simple pic.
5:consumer rated listings so the tish goes to the bottom of the pile I get board of searching after a while especially if theres loads in the list an older but maybe better app dosn't even get viewed purly because its a long running app.
6:new apps start with 5* and no comments (from what I can see) if the devs a good one he will have no trouble building the rep of an app in no time.
I also think this would go a long way to reducing the return figures, as it is now I also am to blame here download to see if I like it's anim/features it isn't like I wish to do so and I would much rather see exactly what I am perchasing before doing so this is called informed desision making somethink the market and not just android market lacks but all markets you wouldn't.buy a car without checking it out no a $1 perchase isn't exactly the same but the principle is.
Another thing I would love to see is an automated device tag on ALL comments so many comments say this dont work well or it runs like a dream but they forget or don't even think to mention for what device they are commenting on.

I would just like the ability to sell apps, but as I don't live in one of the 9 countries below I can't.. back to MS for WP7, or apple I guess..

Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom, United States

Your time will come I am sure of it and probably sooner than later. Don't forget that google as a company in its entiraty have to adear to each contries individual laws (china and its sensoring come to mind here) and Android is a "very" new mobile OS, so working out conditions of sale and what content exs with each goverment will take time as there are many legal variables and contract conditions to be discussed and bartered over before an agreement can be reached that all parties are happy with.

This is spot on. I'm a developer and that is what I wished for as well in my blog.
Google also needs to send their lawyers after the low lifes that run androidplayground. It's a blatant piracy site who's owners are hiding behind their internet provider.

BTW, for those in China, don't blame Google...it's China that is censoring the Android Market:
My guess is it's because of porn in the market and China is paranoid about all their citizens wanking off to it :-P

Since I have been using AppBrain I have bought more apps, as I can find them a bit easier and can push apps to my phone. Being able to browse on a laptop, make lists of potential apps I might be interested in for later decision, has led to a better Android app experience. When I decide I want them, free ones appear seamlessly on my phone and paid ones bounce off the market one after the next. So simple.

Google should buy AppBrain, polish it a little and add the developer focused suggestions of Terazilla above as a start. Making app purchase a truly Global option is a must too.

Another of the serious road blocks has been the lack of apps to sd functionality until Froyo. I for one am pretty maxed out on apps until I get this update (and no I don't want to root my primary phone to get it ... if I brick it my life will suffer ;)). With this functionality I will buy more apps and in all likelihood there will be more decent games etc appearing on the platform, which will help sales no end.

Ultimately it will come down to the consumer being willing to pay, which will be vastly more likely the higher the quality of the applications. There will always be cheap people who want something for nothing (or younger people who can't stretch their allowance to pay for everything they want) but there are plenty of people who appreciate quality and are willing to pay for it. Just look at the Market comments relating to Astro over the last day ... some people are whining like it is the end of the world but many are pleased to support the hard work of a developer who has created an excellent and indispensable app (just my opinion, I use it most days and paid up the $3 instantly).

@ Terazilla: I love your live (donated) aquarium wallpaper! Practically hypnotic, it is ;)

I agree with so much of what you say, too. I think the Market needs repair - seriously! It is too difficult to find the good apps. The economy is not exactly great. People want a lot (maybe too much) value for their money. It is so frustrating.to see Google making the same kinds of mistakes that Apple made with its App Store. Google needs devs for Android to succeed. Devs need paying customers to keep wanting to make good apps. And consumers need easy (and web) access to find the apps that are worth a download. We are all in this together, and we all need help from Google.

I don't understand a lot of these complaints. I've been able to find pretty much everything I've ever wanted off the the market, and the 24 hour return policy is the best thing the market has going. I've bought several apps only to find out they're crap. Why should I be stuck with lousy software? If devs are upset 40% of their sales are being refunded, FIX YOUR APPS.

The 24 hour return policy really is a fantastic feature, in my opinion. I don't have to worry that I'm ripping anybody off and when I download an app I don't have to worry that I'm getting ripped off. This is really very freeing.

Strangely enough, it's also practically a secret -- if there's anywhere in the Marketplace app that tells you this I don't know where it is. Once you've purchased your first item, you might see the "Uninstall&Refund" button and infer what's going on, but that's not exactly explanatory. Google should be smacking users in the face with risk-free purchasing the instant they run Marketplace for the first time. "First time user? Hey! If you don't like something you can return it! Always! No problem!"

Instead, where do they explain this awesome feature? Three layers deep in the help system. Which is hidden under the menu button. Sweet.

TL;DR: 24 hour returns is a feature that genuinely sets apart the Android Market, and they should be promoting it aggressively, but don't.

When perchasing the market dose actualy state you have a 24 hour return for refund option, it is also stated on the perchase confirmation email.

They like to brag "100,000" apps in the market...but I would say 65-70% of them are

1. Worthless
2. Horribly done on our OS when compared to the "other guy"
3. "Hot Girls" apps

The marketplace is a real joke, maybe they can make money when it gets cleaned up and better quality/more interesting apps are released.

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