Android's Biggest Weakness

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If there's any weakness in the Android ecosystem that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) created, it's the app market.

A vibrant flow of fresh applications is critical to an enjoyable user experience. That can't happen unless developers have good incentives for producing the goods. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) builds its iPhone empire on the foundation of a supreme app market. Its App Store is a snappy experience for the user, where finding what you're looking for is about as difficult as drawing breath.

You'd think that Google would excel at building this critical part of the Android experience. The whole company is about organizing the world's information in a user-friendly way. Getting a grip on about 100,000 games and programs shouldn't be a problem for Google, now that it's presented the entire Internet for more than a decade.

Unfortunately, that's not the case. The Android Market app on your Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) Droid or my T-Mobile myTouch 3G is a slapdash presentation of apps in a haphazard organization of categories. It reminds me of Yahoo! in 1995 more than anything else. You can't screen, filter, or rank your application lists; instead, you have to live with whatever ranking method the catalog-keeper chooses to use.

Even the search function is bad. I know, right? Not exactly what you'd expect out of Google. The top result is not the most popular or most downloaded match for your keywords, nor the highest user grade or the most reviewed. In fact, I can't even tell what the organizing principle is, and I have a Master's degree in information science. How do you expect the average user to make heads or tails out of the system?

A weak app market left Palm undone. Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) is taking the BlackBerry market down another dark, lightly trafficked path with similar problems, right alongside Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) . None of this surprises me. Information management is not exactly what these guys do for a living.

But Google really should do better. Speaking as a hopeful Android developer myself (anybody need to keep score in a tennis game?), I'm tempted to relearn Objective-C and jump into the iPhone market instead. Google doesn't seem to care about developers or users, and it's failing to connect the two ends of the market the way it should.

This early in its history, Android doesn't need developers jumping ship. Stop the madness now, Google.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Google, Microsoft, and Nokia are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

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  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2010, at 9:15 PM, xmmj wrote:

    The bigger problem is the control of malware in the apps - or lack of control. Already there have been cases of apps that included spyware or surreptitiously made phone calls to pay-to-call numbers.

    The second problem is that developers have little incentive to develop if they face widespread piracy. I suppose they can overcome this by funding their apps with advertising. I am sure that Google loves this idea.

  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2010, at 9:41 PM, TMFBritcodeftw wrote:

    I agree, the Marketplace is a huge disappointment overall. Bad UI, no quality control, and rampant abuse by app developers who seed their programs with all sorts of dodgy code that either crashes the system or is actively running some kind of exploit. I wonder if Google are trying to have their hands in everything and not really finding the proper discipline and focus to excel at any one thing. Apple have a religious dedication to constantly improving their products whereas Google always seem to be just experimenting and playing with potential and never really capitalizing.

  • Report this Comment On August 22, 2010, at 12:33 AM, alexkhan2000 wrote:

    Well, this isn't surprising. Google seems to have the Microsoft syndrome of just throwing everything and anything against the wall and see what sticks. It figures their entire ecosystem has that same look and feel. There's no doubt that Android is going to attain the so-called "critical mass" at the rate it's growing (unless Oracle's lawsuit puts it to a screeching halt), but this is the problem with open-source/Windows type of paradigm: the free-for-all and anything-goes chaos that will ultimately frustrate the end-users.

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