Android's Biggest Weakness

Last Friday, Android users finally got their hands on Angry Birds, the bestselling game for Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iGadgets. The ballistic puzzler was not released in the ubiquitous, Google-backed Android App Market, but on the cross-platform GetJar store, and the pent-up demand for frenzied fowl fusillades immediately brought GetJar to its knees. In a matter of hours, game developer Rovio pushed Angry Birds out on the Android Market as well; ironically, peace and quiet settled over the scene, as Android gamers everywhere finally put their itchy trigger fingers to work.

Well, sort of. Rovio didn't simply release Angry Birds in the standard Android market to begin with, because the store just isn't available in many parts of the world. The issue is further complicated by the lack of support for paid applications in many of the nations where the Android store does work. That's why Apple users have to pay for Angry Birds, while the Android version is only offered as an ad-supported app, free for the taking. Moreover, a simple search for "Angry Birds" in that store is likely to flood your screen with wallpaper collections, unofficial ripoffs, and plain old spam applications hoping to get you to pay for software before you find out what it actually does.

In short, this episode serves to highlight nearly every major problem with the Android Market: the lack of usable search tools, the sporadic coverage of important geographic markets, the division between free and paid app catalogs, and even the absence of a capable third-party service to fill in the blanks when needed. If Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) wants to catch up to the iPhone App Store in any relevant way, it still has a ton of work to do.

In addition, the specter of platform fragmentation reared its ugly head again with Angry Birds' Android debut. The game doesn't support some Android handsets at all, including phones with very small screens. My own HTC myTouch 3G plays game music over a black screen until I close the application. A Froyo update for my phone might fix the problem -- but then again, it might not. The wide range of available hardware and software versions makes it difficult to provide an optimal experience for all Android users, which is another reason why Apple has had Angry Birds available since last spring, but Android development stretched out until now.

I still maintain that fragmentation is largely a non-issue in the real world -- you wouldn't expect to run Duke Nukem Forever on hardware older than the development process, would you? The market, however, is a big problem. My hope is that Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) and Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) push the envelope far enough with their third-party Android app stores to force Google to make radical changes to its own alternative. The Angry Bird debacle proves the need for drastic action.

Add Google to your watchlist to keep track of Android's development -- or lack thereof.

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