Android has received plenty of criticism for the way the platform has fragmented over time. Most complaints focus on there being so many different versions of Android out there in the hands of consumers, not to mention the different UI enhancements that different phone makers have added.
A fragmented platform is harder for developers to target and makes it difficult to create a consistent user experience, which of course is bad for end users.
But there’s another kind of fragmentation happening on Android as well.
App store fragmentation
Let’s start with a few examples from other mobile platforms.
- On iPhone and other iOS devices, you have the iTunes App Store.
- On Blackberry you have the App World.
- On Nokia phones, you have the Ovi Store.
- On Windows Phone 7 you have the Windows Phone Marketplace.
The point we’re trying to make is, these platforms all focus on one single app store. There is usually never any doubt for users where they should go to find an app.
On Android, you have:
- The official Google-supported Android Market.
- A host of third-party app stores. There have even been rumors of an upcoming Android app store from Amazon.
- But here’s the big one: Several carriers have, or are working on, their own branded Android app stores, for example Verizon in the United States and Vodafone in Europe. Since these app stores come from the carriers selling the phones, they will be integrated with the phones from the start.
The third point is really what this article revolves around. It’s not at all unthinkable that some carriers will choose to only include their own app store, replacing the Android Market for millions of Android users.
Fracturing the user experience
You could argue that the multi-app-store approach is one of Android’s strengths, not a weakness but part of its “openness.”
But think about it from the perspective of a regular mobile phone user, a mass-market consumer who may not even know what this thing called “Android” is. Having multiple app stores doesn’t exactly help streamline the Android user experience, does it?
Another problem is that these people could potentially be missing out on vast amounts of apps if they for example only access a carrier-run app store. And they will most likely not even be aware of this.
Even if Google wanted to reign in and take back control over the user experience for app purchases, it may be too late for that now. Google can improve the Android Market, because that’s under their control, but due to the open nature of the platform, carriers are likely to run wild with their own app stores.
So, assuming this fragmentation is a fact, what does it mean for app developers?
More fragmentation for developers to deal with
Where are developers supposed to place and manage their apps? Android Market is a given, but are they also supposed to place them on all of the other Android app stores or lose out?
And if carrier app stores become even more prevalent – they probably will, carriers love this kind of control and “uniqueness” – will developers have to deal with a ton of different carriers to make sure that their apps are available on their curated app stores?
Here is what Peter Westerbacka of Rovio, makers of Angry Birds, had to say about Android in a recent interview:
Android is growing, but it’s also growing complexity at the same time. Device fragmentation not the issue, but rather the fragmentation of the ecosystem. So many different shops, so many different models. The carriers messing with the experience again.
Android is on the cusp of an explosion in terms of number of devices sold, but the positive effect on the app economy may be severely hampered by this widespread app store fragmentation.
Or is this all a good thing?
So, what does this all mean for Android? Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing?
We obviously lean toward the latter, but it’s worth discussing. What do you think?