Android Paid-App Shortage ‘Fuels Piracy’

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Android’s lack of app payment infrastructure in many countries is creating a population of app pirates, observers say

Google’s Android Market is criticised for spam, piracy and inadequate security, but there is another big issue that is hindering the application store’s growth.

That snafu is paid applications, or the lack thereof in Android Market. Android developers can sell apps to consumers through Android Market in only 13 countries.

These countries include the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and Switzerland.

Missing is support in much of Europe, including all Scandinavian countries, and China, where mobile apps are consumed like water. Google has said it is working hard on boosting its paid app support, but details are vague.

Fuelling piracy

Considering that Android phones are available in 46 countries, users can purchase Android apps in fewer than 30 percent of the available market, as Royal Pingdom, a blog operated by uptime monitoring firm Pingdom, pointed out on 16 August.

Apple’s App Store, considered the template for the mobile app era, supports paid apps in 90 countries.

People can snicker, quibble and bicker all they want about the advantages and disadvantages between Apple’s proprietary iPhone ecosystem and Google’s open-source platform. But Pingdom correctly noted iPhone developers have a big advantage in selling their wares over Android developers because they have more users to target.

Pingdom further posited that this discrepancy between the number of free and paid apps is the reason why there is so much application piracy in the Android Market, which offers 70,000-plus apps. When people can’t buy what they want, they steal it.

And when they steal apps without backlash long enough, they get used to it, much the way thousands of users snapped up pirated digital music from Napster, Limewire and myriad other peer-to-peer sharing websites.

“Some of them will be paying, if nothing else because it’s more convenient, but the risk is that a significant portion of users will not like the idea of suddenly paying for something that so far has been available at no cost,” Pingdom wrote.

“Google will effectively have created ‘pirates’ out of people who may otherwise not have gone down that route. To say that this would severely hinder Android developers from making a living is an understatement.”

Payment infrastructure needed

Google took steps to hinder piracy in July by creating a free licensing service to protect paid applications in the Android Market from unauthorised use. The service will prevent users from downloading paid applications without paying for them.

But Google is certainly aware of the larger, looming issue of the dearth in paid app availability. Jonathan Rosenberg, senior vice president for product management at Google, acknowledged billing infrastructure was a pressing need for the Android Market.

To remedy this, Google is reportedly in talks with PayPal to offer the e-commerce payment platform as an option for purchasing applications through the Android Market.

PayPal, the popular payment service that sports 87 million accounts, would join Google Checkout and credit cards as payment options in the Android Market.

Neither Google nor PayPal confirmed the talks, but they make sense for both companies. Google would get a robust billing platform to sell apps. PayPal would boost its presence on a leading mobile app platform.

For Android developers, and those who wish to develop and sell apps in countries Android Market currently doesn’t support, such a deal can’t come soon enough.

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