Nov 02 AT 3:16 PM Justin Shapcott 39 Comments

Android moving forward, Market left behind

Anyone who follows Android knows that it is moving forward at an unbelievable pace. In just over a year, we have seen four versions of the Android OS (1.0, 1.1, 1.5, 1.6) and a fifth is only days away (2.0).

In that time, however, we have only seen minor changes to one of the core pieces of the Android experience, the Android Market. Here we look at some of our perceived problems of the Android Market and try to offer our suggestions for how to improve it. Of course, this is not a new discussion, but rather one we have discussed several times here at Android and Me, and is a popular complaint around the web.

So, what’s so wrong with the Android Market?

Take a look at this list, which we published all the way back in February 2009, where we outlined some of our biggest complaints with the Android Market at that time. Now compare those complaints the Android Market today. The list is pretty much the same, regardless of which version you are running (which is another discussion altogether).

So, how is it that in eight months and through several versions of Android we have yet to see any of these (except for clearing the cache) hit the Android Market application? Granted, it is possible that these suggestions never made it to Google, but many of them are just common sense. But these are not the only complaints that we’ve seen floating around the web, and most of those changes have not yet made it into the Market.

For the sake of currency, let’s create a new list of complaints:

1. Allow URLs in description to launch browser

As was previously mentioned, it is incredibly cumbersome to retype links included in descriptions to be launched in the browser. Granted there is a Website field that should be used for that, but sometimes there is another link that is included in the description that should be clickable.

2. A popularity list for daily, weekly, monthly

This is a topic which has been discussed time and time again at various places including the official Android groups at Google Groups. While we do have a popularity sort in the Market (now called Top Paid and Top Free in Android 1.6) this doesn’t cut it because this appears to be all-time popularity so those at the top generally stay at the top. We need to be able to tell what is new and hot.

3. Sorting (and filtering) reviews by star rating

The ability to sort and filter reviews of products is very common in online marketplaces. The Android Market, however provides no such functionality to let a user decide how they want to view comments so that they get the most out of them.

4. Long press options on user reviews

As was mentioned before, we’d like to be able to see all reviews by a certain reviewer. This functionality could lead us to better app discoverability if we find a reviewer that offers meaningful reviews. And discoverability is something that the Market severely lacks.

5. Support for tagging applications

One of the foundations of a thriving virtual marketplace is discoverability, and the Android Market fails here at every turn. The current categories do not allow developers to accurately describe their application in many cases. Developers should be able to add tags for their applications and users should be allowed to add their own tags to increase the discoverability of applications and games.

6. Favorite Developers

The Market should provide a way for the user to “watch” a developer for new applications rather than resorting to following external news feeds such as Twitter and blogs to be notified of new applications by a developer they like.

7. Easy way to recommend applications

Again, we find ourselves discussing discoverability of applications. Right now, we have only the popularity sort and comments by which to get recommendations about other apps. What would work better is a “people who like this also liked…” function that is extremely common in online marketplaces. One Android developer (I4 Feet Software) has implemented a recommendation feature in their application My Market, but this feature should be available in the actual Android Market.

8. Bookmarking Applications

There are plenty of times where we install applications that are intriguing but they are not quite “there” and we’d like to bookmark those applications so that we can uninstall them and watch for updates. Why we must install and keep an application in order to receive update notifications is a mystery.

9. Better Search

Why, oh, why is it so hard for the search giant Google to adequately provide a search function in the Android Market? As it stands, the search feature of the market does not gracefully accept typos or other misspellings of application names, it does not allow boolean queries, and it does not allow you to limit your results to a certain type or category. So basically all of the features we know and love in Google search are absent in Android Market search.

10. Filters

A common complaint amongst users comes in the form of filterable market data. For many of us, there are certain types of applications and/or developers that we simply have no desire to ever see. This has even driven the development of the previously mentioned application My Market which implements this feature. The problem with My Market though, is that it relies on unsupported web calls that Google could change at any time, and it depends on the developer name and/or application name for its filters. All a developer has to do to avert being ignored is change the developer display name. If Google implemented this, the filters could be based on developer account as opposed to developer name.

11. Analytics For Developers

Developers need to be better able to gauge the successes and failures of their applications. Currently developers are only provided with the total downloads and the number of active installs of their applications. This information, while mildly useful, does not give enough to know how our applications are doing. Things like Android version, and region would help to troubleshoot issues. Being able to access comments from the Developer Console (along with extended information such as app version and Android version at time of comment) would also help. The “Reason for uninstalling survey” that users must fill out when uninstalling applications is never presented to the developer, so one can only guess why one’s users are uninstalling the application.

12 Inability to load multiple versions of the same app in same space

With multiple versions of Android being active, and such different functionality provided by each version, developers have a difficult task of keeping support for prior versions yet still updating to include new features. The current options for developers include upload a new version to a new space on the Market, use reflection to hack new features into older versions (and fail gracefully when those new features are not present), forget about new features, or forget old users. Developers should have the facility to upload a new version of an app into the same space but requires a certain version of Android. The Market would then determine the appropriate version to distribute to the user.

13. An official web-accessible version

While we have enjoyed having Cyrket and AndroLib, Google should provide an official web accessible version of the market for locating and viewing applications while not on the device. Ideally, this would provide real-time access to the same information as the on-device client. This would make it so that  users wouldn’t have to rely third-party sites using unsupported web service calls and caching of information previously collected (and potentially not updated).

14. Other issues presented by top Android developer Larva Labs on their blog:

a. Limitation of Application Description to 325 characters

This is simply not enough space to accurately describe an application or game in many cases.

b. Applications not listed (without apparent reason) for some users.

For no apparent reason some users simply don’t see certain apps. To make it worse, sometimes applications seem to come and go, again for no apparent reason.

c. Download failures.

We’ve all seen this happen, where we go to download an application or game and it simply doesn’t work.

d. Refunds

Refunds are good, and bad. They are good for those cases where you simply don’t get what you thought you were getting but, for certain types of apps (markedly games) 24 hours is simply too long. As Larva Labs quotes: “Great game, loved it. Beat it in an hour – refund.” is a relatively common comment.

For the sake of being fair, some things we like:

1. Screenshots for Applications and Games.

With Android 1.6, Google introduced screenshots to the Market. This is great for both users and developers because it allows the Developer to better communicate his/her application to the user, and the user can make a better decision about that application or game before downloading it. Unfortunately, the number of Android devices running 1.6 as disappointing, with many new phones still being released with 1.5.

2. Promo Graphics and Text.

Also with Android 1.6, Google introduced another opportunity for developers to reach their audience with promo graphics and text to be displayed (at Google’s will) in featured apps areas of the Market. Again, this requires the user to be on Android 1.6, and many are not.

3. Update Notifications.

It’s great to be notified when there are updates to applications you have installed. In the early days of the Market we had to physically look for updates to applications. It wasn’t hard, but it was an extra step we had to take to remain current. The notification system needs some work as there are numerous reports of false notifications and missing notifications, but overall this feature is good and we can still fall back to manual checking.

4. Openness.

The openness of the Android Market is one of its greatest features both for users and developers. With this openness, Users get a wide variety of applications, and developers can release updates and fixes without having to jump through hoops and approval processes.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

We think that Google must take a more active interest in the Android Market if it is to succeed.

The fact that so little of the user complaints have been addressed in the past year is very disheartening and is a shame considering the great potential of Android and the Market to bring new and exciting applications and games to users. This is especially important as Android gets more and more exposure, such as with the release of the Motorola Droid on Verizon this week. PC World has even gone so far as to say that the Android Market is holding back the success of the Droid even before it has been released. And with further pressure being added by the announcement that Palm will be opening up its market for Web OS, we think that the time is now for Google to make waves and improve on this key piece of the Android ecosystem.

For even more Market gripes check out these discussions of the official Google groups for Android here, here, and here.

Justin is the founder of and lead developer at nEx.Software.

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