With more than 130,000 available applications and 1.6 billion downloads so far, the Android Market for smartphones and tablets is still a fraction of the size of the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) App Store. But it's a large and growing fraction, and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is taking steps to grow it even faster.

In an email sent to Android developers over the weekend (of which I am one), the Android Market team announced that the market is getting support for paid applications in more countries. Currently, only 14 countries are allowed to download paid apps for Android because they support the Google Checkout payment system. And if you thought that was restrictive, consider that only nine nations are allowed to upload and sell applications in the Market.

Apple is running circles around Android when it comes to having the best user experience in the app store. Expanding the support for applications purchased up front rather than being supported by mobile advertising should make Android a bigger force to be reckoned with over time, as some developers gain access to the paid app strategy while others suddenly see the point of publishing apps this way with a larger installed user base.

Ready availability of high-quality apps is arguably the top reason smartphones are selling like hotcakes and why Android phones and iPhones with huge stores are pulling away from Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM) BlackBerry, Nokia (NYSE: NOK), and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), all of whom add up to about 15,000 applications.

It's a long overdue move for Android, but there is still much to be done. Android fan site AndroidGuys ponders whether Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) might open up an independent app store for Android users, quite possibly offering a slicker user experience than the regular Market. Wouldn't it be better for Google to create a truly functional app store to ship with every Android gadget, rather than asking users to find a better alternative on their own? You really expect better from a specialist in search and information.

Will a wider distribution of paid apps give Android a jolt of caffeine, or would a new Market altogether be a better investment for Google? My vote is for a better Market, but share yours in the comments below. Loudly, please.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Google, Microsoft, and Nokia are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple and Amazon.com are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.