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Android Web Market still a bit wonky, but coming along

by Phil Hornshaw

Google announced its web-based Android Market site this week, and made the site immediately available to let Android device owners enjoy a lot of the functionality that users of Apple’s iTunes service have had access to for a couple of years now. And while the browser version of the Market is a step in the right direction, Google (GOOG) still needs to put some work into it.

Ars Technica published an in-depth review of the store, which found that while Google has done some good things with the Market, there are some strong improvements that could be made that would expand and improve the experience.

Reports from the Internet suggest the worst problems with the Market as it stands is getting it to recognize all the Android devices out there, and all the different versions of the OS they’re potentially running on. A better device management system seems like it will be one of Google’s first improvements; new ways to aggregate apps that users might like to download, rather than simple or obvious choices (featured right now are Foursquare, Movies by Flixster, Newegg and a Compass app), for Google’s featured sections would also be very helpful.

Another place that Google could really capitalize on would to improve on the iTunes model of the App Store by doing a better job of finding and presenting new apps and update information. Apple’s “New & Noteworthy” often falls a little short in both categories. Google could really capitalize on the ability to show its users what’s brand new in the Market, which is something a lot of web sites -- including this one -- do independently.

Beyond that, Google would do well to feature actual apps that are more than just conglomerations of wallpapers or sound bites to make into ringtones, which clutter the Market if you’re not looking for them specifically. But with some attention to what other services are doing right, the Android Market could become one of the shining pillars of Android ownership, and Google could point to it as evidence of why users should go with the OS -- just like Apple (AAPL) does with iTunes. Relative to what it could be, the iTunes App Store stumbles in a few key ways (does anyone else get the impression that every software update makes the program worse?) that Google could improve in its own system.

It’ll take some work, though, and don’t expect it to happen overnight. Any improvement to the online Market is a good thing, especially because it’s such a step in the right direction for Android in general. But Google really has an opportunity to make the service its capitol for Android, rather than a handy supplement to existing systems. That seems to be the company’s goal: whether it looks to add the innovation necessary to succeed, plus the hard work, remains to be seen.