Google making more Android changes than just in-app purchases

by Phil Hornshaw

The news today is all about Google (GOOG) adding in-app purchasing to its Android mobile operating system, something it pledged to do when it announced Android 3.0 Honeycomb back in February. And while in-app purchases are nice, there's more to the story: Google plans to roll out a number of improvements for the Android experience, including better policing of its Android Market.

We've been talking about the Android Market's issues a lot lately, and it seems Google is not resting in the face of those problems. While the Android Market is coming along nicely and becoming a better service almost every day, it’s still significantly weaker than Apple's (AAPL) iTunes App Store, the market through which that company sells apps to its iPhone and iPad users. Google needs to hit a stride at which its Android experience is as comparable to, if not better than, the Apple App Store as possible. So far, that just hasn't happened.

Users and developers alike complain about a lot of issues, both minor and major, with the current state of the Android Market. You might recall the biggest one recently, when Google remotely nuked about 50 apps it discovered were actually infecting Android phones with malware. These apps weren't actually doing anything too insidious on their own – they weren't actively downloading bank account information and shipping it to third parties, for example – but they were creating security holes in Android phones and devices that could be exploited by other malware programs to do scarier things, like execute identity theft.

The open source nature of Android and the Market itself, despite Google's rules about what can and can't be sold there, have left it vulnerable to problems such as potential security breaches. Developers, specifically game developers, have also complained that the Android Market is the scene of a lot of app plagiarism and copyright infringement – basically, apps being copied and sold by people who didn't actually create them. Google's response times on copyright infringement issues varies, according to some developers, but the point is that some screening or enforcement on Google's part is needed – even though the iTunes App Store has similar, if perhaps less widespread, problems.

So along with the roll-out of in-app purchases, Google is continuing to invest in support staff to help screen its growing app marketplace and enforce its rules, according to a story from Fierce Mobile Content. The more effort and money Google puts into that area, the more secure the Android Market will become, both for users and developers.

Another problem developers struggle with are app discovery tools – the means through which users find out about apps and buy them. Google has a tendency to feature its own apps or ports from the iOS platform, according to some developers, which means they have trouble getting their apps in front of people to buy them. Android Developer Ecosystem Manager Eric Chu said Google is currently working on strengthening the algorithm that helps rank apps in the Android Market, which will help with searching and get well-ranked apps to more users.

Finally, Google is working on new carrier billing options for certain apps. The struggle is in making deals with carriers for direct billing of apps, which takes time and is expensive, but which should help improve the sale of premium apps by making them easier to purchase and pay for on the consumer end.

All of these signal much-needed improvements to the Android Market, especially in the face of the new Amazon Appstore (AMZN), which also sells Android apps and has had the benefit of landing some exclusive deals from developers. The better Google makes the experience of using its app store for both consumers and developers, the stronger Android will be for everyone who has a stake in it.