The Hills Are Greener: Maybe No Freedom is Better?

The Hills Are Greener: Maybe No Freedom is Better?

Aug 12, 2013

For developers, Google Play still lacks two key features that the App Store has: one is promo codes. These continue to harm the review environment, and it’s baffling that Google doesn’t support them.

The other is the ability to go from being a paid app to a free app, and back to paid. This means that developers can’t do temporary promotions of their apps, they can only make one permanent shift, or drops to $0.99.

This makes it difficult for developers to undertake certain pricing strategies, and it limits developer flexibility.

But is this a definite bad thing?

Think about it this way: the ‘paymium’ model of launching at 99 cents and going free afterward just can’t happen on Android. It forces developers and publishers to properly valuate their content before deciding whether they want to go free.

As well, just a cursory peek at the top paid list shows that it’s more than just the $0.99 price tier making its appearance on the store: Minecraft is number one at $6.99, and there’s a smattering of $2.99 and $4.99 games up and down the charts. Admittedly, a lot of big, well-known names are on there, sure. But in a way, the fact that the paid charts are supporting more than just the $0.99 games, and feature plenty of evergreen titles, including from a studio like 2DBoy and Hemisphere Games, creators of Osmos, well, that’s actually heartening. Vector Unit’s success with Riptide GP thanks in large part to Android is a good thing. I’ve spoken to developers off the record who suggest that Android is doing better for paid apps than the common opinions suggest that they are doing.

Still, the fact that it’s a bit of a challenge to get on that list, and that the top grossing charts look very similar to the iOS ones, does say something too: there’s less of a difference between iOS and Android in terms of making money off of them. The same free-to-play tactcs seemingly work. But when it comes to paid games, it’s a whole new world. And perhaps, if developers can’t just drop to free, maybe that’s a big part of why it’s happening?

The Hills Are Greener: Five Years Later, What Separates the App Culture on iOS and Android Still?

The Hills Are Greener: Five Years Later, What Separates the App Culture on iOS and Android Still?

Jul 8, 2013

The App Store turns five this week, and it looks like it’s going to be a big deal: a variety of high-profile freebies are being made available, including classics like Where’s My Water?, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, and even a recent hit like Badlands.

It’s hard to think that the land of mobile apps has been around for so long already – Google Play is actually close to turning 5 as well, with the Android Market having launched initially in October 2008. There’s a lot of apps, and a lot of Android devices out there – likely more than the App Store at this point.

It just still feels like the App Store is just a bigger deal, for whatever reason. Is it because of the Apple mystique that causes everything surrounding the App Store to feel more elevated, more important.


Perhaps it has to do with the community around the App Store? I’ve often felt that the lack of a promo code system on Google Play has limited what the press can do, as developers are often hesitant to send out APKs of their games. That’s an easy route to piracy.

As well, dropping an app’s price to free temporarily just does not happen on Google Play, so it’s not a way to promote apps. Why this has yet to change is baffling because it continues to arise as a problem.

But really, what do ascribe as the biggest reason for the difference between the culture of iOS and Android? iOS, because of the limited amount of hardware that can run it, has to focus on the apps. Android users tend to focus more on their devices, customizing them, hacking them…the app-focused culture isn’t there because it doesn’t necessarily have to be pointed in that direction.

However, Android continues to grow in prominence, and is still on the receiving end of many major apps and games. And I have talked to developers that have seen better performance on Android than on iOS because of the audience. As well, the core gamer audience may prefer Android. Perhaps it’s that hacker culture, or the availability of gamepads.

Whatever the reason for the different cultures, one can only hope that the app marketplaces can keep going strong for another five years. And who knows, maybe the culture will be dramatically changed by then as well…

The Hills Are Greener: Does App Store Censorship Affect All App Stores?

The Hills Are Greener: Does App Store Censorship Affect All App Stores?

Jun 24, 2013

Polygon has published an article about “serious games” (games that are used to discuss or convey serious points) and how Apple has resisted allowing games that criticize them or reference certain touchy subjects from being on the App Store.

It’s entirely wrong, and it’s why I’m glad open operating systems like Android exist for allowing them to exist. But still, what Apple does has reverberations on what the entire market can do because of their position.

After all, if a developer wants to have some hope of financial success with a game, they’re going to avoid making a ‘serious’ game because, well, Apple can shut down a significant portion of possible revenue with a wave of their hand. Yes, Android distribution exists as an option, but only releasing on one platform, or having to heavily modify a game to release on the App Store as well as on Android, it discourages developers from tackling them entirely.

And that’s the scary thing – why should the entire market be forced to play by Apple’s rules? PC marketplaces like Steam can choose not to feature certain content, but they don’t shut down distribution entirely for those games. Apple shuts down the existence of them on their operating system entirely.

What Apple needs to do is to allow for non-App-Store distribution of apps. I think that yes, they should be allowed to take certain precautions to prevent mass piracy of paid apps (it is still a problem on Android), but the market is mature enough to where it should be allowed. It’s one thing to run and control a store. It’s another to censor content entirely.

It’s why I don’t take Google removals, though they are fewer and farther between, so poorly. Google has a right to run their store the way they want because even if they decide to shut something down, it’s still possible for those apps to be distributed in some form. Google doesn’t kill the existence of software it disapproves of entirely. Part of that might be the Linux factor, but it’s still the operating reality, and that’s what is important.

At worst, it’s the right thing to do for Apple, to allow content they disapprove of to still exist in some form. Why can’t games mature to the point where they can discuss current events? Or to talk about sex? Or to criticize institutions like religion or international technology conglomerates like Apple and Google? If Apple refuses to allow apps to tackle the subjects, they make it harder for the app market as a whole to mature to make it a possibility.

The Hills Are Greener: One Way That Google Needs to Make Google Play More Appealing for Developers

The Hills Are Greener: One Way That Google Needs to Make Google Play More Appealing for Developers

Apr 22, 2013

Google has been slowly rolling out version 4.0 of Google Play, with a redesigned user experience. Google is far more willing to tinker with Google Play than Apple with the App Store, who have made only one major change since launching the store in 2008. Plus, Google’s store is actually a native app as opposed to the embedded web views that Apple uses with the App Store. It’s just a better experience, one definite advantage for Google Play over the App Store.

But there’s one area where Google Play continues to lag behind the App Store, and it’s something that consumers aren’t directly touched by, though they play a role in it: taxes.

See, Apple, for apps sold on the App Store, they’ll handle paying taxes to the various local and national governments that demand a cut. It’s essentially part of the 30% fee that Apple takes from developers, that Apple will handle that.

Play Books Home - Tablet

Play Home - Phone

Play Home - TabletNow, Google takes that same 30% cut, but that’s basically just to get on the store – by default, they don’t do the kind of tax handling that Apple does. Essentially, 30% gets you distribution on Google Play, and that’s it. Individual developers have to give their cut to governments on their own – and considering that there’s 50 states and many countries on Google Play, it’s difficult for small firms.

I’ve spoken to developers who have been nervous about this – going legal would be nearly impossible for a small team. One such solution has been to just make their apps ad-supported on Google Play, which solves that problem by only having to report revenue from the ad provider, seemingly, but limits apps’ revenue opportunities, especially with in-app purchases, and limits premium apps. It’s something that Google should make easy for developers, and yet it remains a difficult experience.

Developers have it hard enough on Android, what with all the hardware permuatations to support. Google needs to make it as easy as possible to be on Android for developers. It has a direct consumer impact too: if developers are more willing to make software available for Android, then there’s more reasons for people to come to the platform (or remain on it) and to spend money. In the world of iOS and Android, Google is not doing the job they could be at making Android the attractive choice that it should be.

The Hills Are Greener: AppGratis, Saga, and Why Google Play is Still Way Different Than the App Store

The Hills Are Greener: AppGratis, Saga, and Why Google Play is Still Way Different Than the App Store

Apr 15, 2013

There’s plenty of reasons for Android supporters to be feeling smug with how Google runs Android and its store versus what Apple has been doing.

First, there’s the content concerns that Apple has. This has come to a head this week with the comic Saga and its 12th issue, which was supposedly banned from the App Store due to images of sex between two men; it turned out Apple didn’t have a direct say in what happened, but that Comixology didn’t believe that they could sell it on the iOS issue due to the content, eventually making it available only through the workaround of buying it outside of the iOS app, then making it available in the library. Apple didn’t have a direct say in banning it, but their policies were at least partially at fault.

More seriously, Apple has pulled the plug suddenly on AppGratis seemingly because they’ve figured out how to do their job too well at promoting the apps they feature for free; basically any app featured was pretty much an instant top 10, and Apple wants to keep the list organic (and possibly to keep some value in their weekly free app promotion), so they’re willing to try and harm if not outright destroy a 40-plus-employee company seemingly instantaneously. They’ll probably find a new way to keep their business going, but it definitely has had an effect.

Google may be more lax on content, short of the standard "no pornography or illegal content’ warnings that really don’t mean too much since Google Play doesn’t have a dedicated review team, but the store and company are unafraid to shut down what they see as undesirable. See the ad blocking removal – apps that seemed to violate "guidelines" more so than actual rules. However, the difference there is clear: Google makes its money from ads. Shutting down ad blockers on their store is definitely justifiable. As well, there’s a huge philosophical difference: if Apple shuts down an app, it requires hacking the device in order to get apps from outside the store, a process that is getting harder to do for the hackers. Google shuts down an app and it’s still available through other sources for all users.

These policies are definitely subject to change, however – see the article about how it’s easier to discover content on Google Play because they display so many more listings; then the news breaks that Google’s redesigning the store again, and the number of listings per page is reduced. Things can change with Google at any time, so don’t assume any moral superiority can or will last forever. But yes, for now, Google’s decisions seem far more defensible than what Apple continues to do.

Google Adds In-App Subscriptions to Google Play, With Fewer Restrictions Than the App Store

Google Adds In-App Subscriptions to Google Play, With Fewer Restrictions Than the App Store

May 25, 2012

Google Play just added a new subscription option for in-app payments. While this is something of a catch-up move to the App Store, which has offered in-app subscriptions for the past year, there’s a key difference here in Google’s approach versus Apple’s. See, Google is promoting their subscription with Frontline Commando by Glu, which is obviously a game. However, word from the App Store side of things is that Apple only wants publications to use their subscription API. This is why the new space strategy MMO Empire of the Eclipse requires that their subscriptions just be bought with individual in-app purchases, there’s no recurring billing available.

So, with Frontline Commando being the game that Google is showing off with in-app subscriptions, it’s apparent that they’re going to leave this more open to developers to use how they want. For example, there’s a recurring currency addition subscription added to some Glu games. This means developers can count on some steady sources of income along with in-app purchases.

As well, subscriptions will be extendable outside of Android – an HTTP-based API will allow for subscription content to be accessed through a desktop browser, for example. This does show the difference in Google’s approach versus Apple’s. Apple really wants to try and curate the store to their whims, and they’re willing to leave developers in a lurch by denying them access to a feature that would make sense. MMO games could really use the in-app subscription API. If there’s a concern about abuse or people racking up subscriptions, then Apple could address this, perhaps by prompting a user when their subscription is up if they haven’t loaded an app in some amount of time. As it is, it’s just a silly restriction, and one that Google is willing to be more open with, and even opening up an interesting new avenue for games to be monetized. It also gives Google Play a leg up on the Amazon Appstore for the time being. Support is starting to roll out to devices with Google Play 3.5 and above installed.

GameFly to Launch Mobile Publishing Arm and GameStore

GameFly to Launch Mobile Publishing Arm and GameStore

May 24, 2012

GameFly, the Netflix-esque service for renting games by mail, is making a transition into the digital distribution era. Like Netflix. Their transition to the mobile market is going to be twofold. First, they’re launching a new publishing arm that’s looking to release titles for iOS and Android. They’re currently accepting submissions for potential games to be published via email.

As well, they’re planning to launch their own third-party app store for Android: the GameFly GameStore. The plan is to launch later this fall, and will be available for phones and tablets. Combined with their publishing initiative, they appear to be attempting to establish a foothold in mobile gaming, in order to secure their place if and when the disc rental business becomes outdated. Android obviously gives them the opportunity to launch their own distribution mechanism, unlike iOS, but the question will be if GameFly GameStore can come up with a compelling enough reason for users to buy their games from there instead of Google Play or the Amazon Appstore. If they can help with games visibility, then there just may be a market for their store.

The Hills Are Greener: Can Fixing Google Play Make Android a Gaming Platform?

The Hills Are Greener: Can Fixing Google Play Make Android a Gaming Platform?

May 14, 2012

The report came out recently that Apple was making 84% of all mobile gaming revenue in the US, according to Newzoo. The iPad alone accounted for 30% of all mobile gaming revenue, compared to Android’s 16%. Other platforms were either so small that they were just rounding errors, or were not considered in this study.

Of course, the idea that Android is not as big of a player in mobile gmaing is a recurring one. I’m just curious in particular, what causes this attitude to persist?

Personally, when discussing the iOS and Android question, I often say that for those who think gaming is an important factor on the mobile device, they need to go iOS. The platform still isn’t entirely optimized for gaming (I would like better save game handling), and the App Store is still a mess, but just in the sheer number of quality releases on a weekly basis, and the undiscovered gems that keep popping up, iOS and the App Store are winning. It’s not just in the battle for money – it’s a battle for attitude.

For this attitude to change, Google is going to have to take steps toward improving gaming on Android. This may mean trying to push new releases in a similar way to Apple; curating content and featuring the best, rotating their features regularly may be a big step toward making this more possible. After all, if Google starts to show that new content exists, then it might just help spur things along.

The other problem may be users just aren’t as attached to Google Play as they are the App Store. This may be in part due to the way Android is laid out. The App Store is ever-present on a user’s device. They have to visit it and see the featured page often. It can be buried in a folder, but it’s still always there. The Play Store can easily be hidden, and it’s possible to rarely visit the storefront because of the ability to be notified automatically if updates are ready. It’s easy to not wind up looking at the front page of the store for a while.

Google needs to make the Google Play more important to users, and visiting it more. Otherwise, only the big players will be able to succeed on Android, and they’re not the ones that need the help.

The Amazon Appstore is Doing a Better Job Selling Apps Than Google Play is.

The Amazon Appstore is Doing a Better Job Selling Apps Than Google Play is.

Apr 2, 2012

How is it that a third-party app store is beating Google at selling apps on their own platform?

Selling Android apps isn’t easy. This is a mantra that Android developers, especially the smaller ones, keep repeating. Supporting many more devices for a fraction of the revenue compared to iOS can be extremely frustrating.

What doesn’t help is that the main market for selling Android apps, Google Play, is particularly difficult to make money off of. Just how difficult? Well, according to Flurry, Android apps on Google Play earn 23% of the revenue as they do on the iOS App Store. That does not mean that everywhere on Android is such a barren revenue wasteland, though.

Apparently, apps on the Amazon Appstore are generating 89% of the revenue that they do on iOS. Not as good, but in the same ballpark, and it’s far ahead of Google Play.

The Kindle Fire

This may be due to the fact that Amazon has a more curated marketplace than Google. They also offer wider varieties of pricing, including the ability to take a paid app for free, though the actual positive benefits are mixed-to-unknown for going free on the store. Most importantly may be that Amazon has a specialized device designed for content consumption available for a low cost, that can only access this store out of the box: the Kindle Fire.

While volume is still the big concern for the Amazon Appstore versus Google Play, this does show that if Amazon keeps expanding its store, through either selling more Kindle Fires, continuing free app promotions, or even convincing carriers that they need to be on their devices from day 1 in order to expand their reach, and strike at the heart of Google Play.

The fact that Amazon is an established commerce company, especially compared to Google, helps as well. Everyone on the internet probably has bought something from Amazon at some point, even at some recent point, and has payment details on file. Google was getting many users’ payment information for the first time, and it could simply be a case where users are just simply too lazy to put in their credit card information for that first time, because that’s work, and do they really need that app? This is a particular hurdle, and the lack of any kind of gift card or promo code system continues to be a major hurdle.

Convenience is a killer feature. The fact that Apple had so much iTunes payment info when the App Store launched should not be underestimated when realizing their success. Amazon being in a similar position, along with potentially smarter strategies for selling content, may be why the Amazon Appstore is just so much more successful at this point than Google Play. Still, Android and Google Play have been around for a while. At some point, the convenience of already having payment info is likely to equalize. Will the Amazon Appstore still be the leader? If so, it may indicate that there’s more to Google Play’s failings than just pre-entered credit card info.

The Hills Are Greener: Why Android Has OnLive and iOS Doesn’t.

The Hills Are Greener: Why Android Has OnLive and iOS Doesn’t.

Dec 26, 2011

So, here we are, two weeks later, and OnLive is still only on Android. It was announced to be released for iOS along with the Android version, but no real reason has been given as to the delay of the iOS version, beyond that Apple is still examining it for approval.

Without firsthand knowledge of the process, I can only assume that Apple is not likely to approve it because it will not fit their policies. See, OnLive’s client is all cloud-based; even the interface and menus to choose games are streamed from their servers. This also means that buying new games comes from operations occuring on their servers.

Apple likely has two problems with this. First is the fact that the OnLive could feature content that they themselves did not specifically approve; this may have been the ultimate issue with Big Fish’s subscription app that was available for a short while on the App Store before being pulled. The second, and more telling issue, is that Apple would not get their cut. See, Apple policies are as such where apps can now no longer sell content inside of an app unless they go through Apple’s in-app payment service, and Apple takes their 30% cut. For virtual currency, developers and publishers are willing to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but for sellers of subscription and physical goods, this is too large of a cut to surrender to Apple. As such, apps can now offer access to purchased content from outside the app, but they cannot specifically sell it inside the app. Kindle can’t sell books from within the app; Netflix can’t sell subscriptions from within their app. Likely, the issue here is that Apple doesn’t want to let OnLive sell games without them taking their pound of flesh.

Frankly, this is bunk. This is anti-consumer policy at its worst. This only benefits Apple, as this is holding up an app that many iPad owners would likely use, and one that Android owners are already getting to use, solely because of Apple’s policies. Presumably. This reasoning makes too much sense to not be true. The technology likely isn’t an issue; it’s largely just streaming video with occasional touch elements, with support for on-screen controls as well as an external wireless gamepad. Apple just wants control, and to make extra pennies off of anyone trying to do business on their store, not to provide the best experience to the user in this case.

The likely solution, if payment processing is an issue, would likely be that the iOS version of OnLive would only allow access to already-purchased games and trials of them. This would be a degraded user experience, especially compared to the fully-functional Android version (which supports Xbox controllers on devices with USB host functionality), for what are likely reasons only relating to Apple’s ham-handed control of the App Store.

Of course, I could be completely wrong and there was some other issue that kept it from being approved alongside the Android version. But this stinks of Apple’s anti-consumer App Store policies. It’s times like this when I truly appreciate the openness of Android – services can be free to operate properly without any interference from Google. It has its drawbacks at times, but it is times like these when it is a great strength. OnLive on, Androids!

The Hills Are Greener: Ratio Rationale

The Hills Are Greener: Ratio Rationale

Sep 12, 2011

As reported by ReadWriteWeb, Research2Guidance has analysis on the percentage of daily downloads that app stores are getting in comparison to the iOS App Store, and they show that the two primary app platforms, the iOS App Store and Android Market, are paling in comparison to other, smaller platforms.

The first interesting sign is that users of the two primary mobile platforms, iOS and Android are downloading fewer apps than users of other stores. In particular, Windows Phone 7 owners are downloading apps at an 80% higher rate than on the iOS App Store, with the Android Market falling 5% behind the App Store. No numbers were given for third-party markets on any platform, it appears, such as Amazon Appstore. Nokia’s Symbian operating system may be relatively unknown to the current smartphone userbase, but some how it gets 160% more downloads from its OVI Store than the iOS App Store! Even BlackBerry owners are downloading more apps per user than the iOS App Store. Are users of these other platforms more enthusiast-focused audiences versus more casual userbases on iOS and Android?

Still, the numbers are kind of shocking. Well, except for Palm users not downloading apps on a daily basis at all, it seems. Still, GetJar being 90% lesser in terms of app downloads compared to the App Store is kind of sad considering all of GetJar’s apps are free, though in many cases this may be because users on GetJar’s platforms are just getting those apps from the platform’s primary app store.

Most interesting is the sign that the Android Market doesn’t actually lag behind the iOs App Store as far as one might think. Users are downloading apps on Android at only a 5% lesser rate than on iOS. This doesn’t sound good, but given the repuation of Android as a revenue sinkhole, data showing that this isn’t really the case is ultimately good. The platform is still lagging behind the iOS App Store when it comes to apps, but it’s catching up in terms of the number of apps that are being downloaded.

It will be interesting to revisit these numbers at some point in the future, to see how the Android Market in particular fares with the App Store as the OS continues to expand. Who knows what the numbers will look like a year from now, or even just a few months later?

The Hills Are Greener: Fire! Fire!

The Hills Are Greener: Fire! Fire!

Sep 5, 2011

They’ve finally hit Android. As reported on Sunday, two of the biggest publishers on Android have launched holiday sales, with deep discounts on many of their games. iOS users are quite familiar with this practice; any significant date or holiday is cause for bargain basement prices on apps and games with some of the best production values on mobile markets.

Of course, the problem with the sale culture on iOS is that it essentially devalues higher-priced apps. As of publication, all the games in the top 25 were all $0.99 (though Words With Friends appears to be on sale as it has been in the top 25 recently at $1.99), in part because value has been so warped by two primary factors. First, Angry Birds has provided a huge amount of value for $0.99, and keeps adding value at that price point. Second, publishers like EA and Gameloft who do price their games at premium price points tend to subvert them because of their frequent sales that they hold on these games. Why pay $6.99 for a game when it will only be $0.99 by the time a holiday rolls around?

So, it’s kind of surprising to see Gameloft and Namco attempt to start up the massive fire sale on Android, just because it seems like devaluing games on Android, where the perception is that selling games on the platform is difficult, isn’t a good idea. This is also a platform where free apps and games are often the distrbution method of choice for developers, so the fire sale is often irrelevant entirely! Even with that, there seems to be little reason for Android developers and publishers to duplicate this practice on Android. The big publishers wind up selling apps at well below market value, and small developers have to underprice their apps just so they can stay afloat and competitive with those that can afford to partake in the race to the bottom.

Are lower prices ultimately good for users’ wallets? Yes. Is it good for the health of the platform long-term? No. Developers need to make money and to be paid fair value for the products they create, and if fire sales become a widespread practice on Android, then the platform could hurt because of it.