Google continues to roll out Android Market improvements

by Phil Hornshaw

Google’s Android operating system might be tops among smartphones, but it irks developers who want to make apps for it. Google still lags behind competitor Apple in a few key areas, and one big one is the Android Market.

The web version of Google’s app store was something of a mess. The company has been taking steps to strengthen it, tightening-up app discovery and adding features that are similar to Apple’s iTunes App Store, which enjoys a lot of financial success. In keeping up with Apple, Google has added curated app lists that make recommendations for tablet apps, free apps, things that are new to the store or otherwise promoted, and the like.

According to a story from Fierce Mobile Content, Google has made further improvements to the Android Market, updating it with detailed information from user reviews for apps. Like some of Google’s other recent improvements, these echo some of the features found in the App Store. This is a good thing, given that user reviews in that space can make or break an app’s sales, and that many users go by reviews when making a decision to purchase apps.

Now, on each app’s Market page, user reviews are broken down by star ranking, with the total number of reviews for each app displayed as well. The number of ratings for each rank – five stars, four stars, etc. – are shown beside each rank, so it’s easy to see how many people of a given total think an app is amazing as compared to terrible. The information is also presented as a bar graph to make the comparison even clearer and quicker.

Good reviews, better sales

Positive reviews can help drive app discovery and sales, which helps bring apps to Android’s top-selling lists, which mean further exposure – and that’s good for developers. Google has been making other improvements as well: Earlier this month, it extended its +1 feature to the Android Market, which allows users to basically “like” things the way they would on Facebook. This equates to a quick, one-click endorsement of an app that gets numerically tallied and displayed on the app’s page, as well as passed around a user’s Google network.

All these things are good improvements for the Android Market that can help users find what they’re looking for and make good buying decisions, which is key to a strong experience in the Market and customer satisfaction with the apps they pull down. But it isn’t exactly in line with the iTunes App Store’s offerings just yet. For example, it’s not possible to actually search app reviews by their rating, so it’s not easy to find out what people disliked about an app, or to look for reviews that seem like they might have been added to pump up an app’s positive marks.

Still, Google’s making strides, and the better the Android Market becomes, the more developers will populate it. Currently, the Market has more than 200,000 apps and rising, with lots of initiatives floating around among developers to bring more apps from other platforms to Google’s OS. Improvements to the Market can only help matters.