Google’s improvements to the Android Market application store, including the addition of a browser-based store and in-app payments, are being hailed as a big step in the right direction by analysts and developers.
So far, Market has been the most criticized part of the Android ecosystem, according to Ben Wood, director of research at CCS Insight.
“Developers felt they haven’t been able to monetize it in the way they have on Apple’s App Store,” said Wood.
The browser-based version of Android Market will make it easier to discover new applications, according to Google. Previously the store was only available via a mobile phone client.
Users can also send applications directly to their Android device and share applications with friends through Twitter, Google said.
It is the latest in a line of improvements Google has been making over the last couple of months, including a new Android Market client and longer description texts for applications.
“[Google] finally realized that there was a severe need to improve the Market, and that is good news,” said Android developer Konrad Hübner said via e-mail.
His favorite new feature is the ability to select an application, which then can be pushed automatically to a phone. Installing applications that way is “much more comfortable than the iTunes hassle,” Hübner said.
He isn’t alone in thinking that the over-the-air installation of applications is a step forward. It is much smoother than downloading apps into iTunes on a desktop and then synching them with an iPhone, according to Fredrik Andersson, founder and business developer at Swedish consultancy Kondensator.
An important part of the marketing of applications is distribution via social networks and the ability install directly after making a first impression, Andersson said via e-mail.
He is looking forward to using in-app payments, which allows developers to make money from selling virtual goods or upgrades within their applications.
The big challenge is to help users to find what they need among the myriad of apps available, according to Andersson. But that goes for Apple and the App Store, as well, he said.
On Wednesday, Google also demonstrated Android 3.0 or Honeycomb, the upcoming version of the OS that has been tailor-made for tablets, expected to help products like Motorola’s Xoom and LG’s G-Slate compete with Apple’s iPad.
The increased competition will encourage the development of all platforms, and consumers will be able to benefit from that. The arrival of Android 3.0-based tablets will also allow Kondensator to develop new services that, for example, take advantage of the larger displays that tablets offer, Andersson said.
A recent survey of apps developers conducted by Appcelerator — whose Titanium platform can be used to develop cross-platform, native applications — and IDC showed a growing interest in Android-based tablets. Interest jumped 12 points in three months to 74 percent of respondents saying they are “very interested” in developing for these devices, according to the survey.
The Market improvements come at a key time for Android. On Monday, market research company Canalys said Android had passed Symbian to become the most popular smartphone OS.
“Android has been a phenomenal success, probably beyond the wildest dreams that Google had for it,” said Wood.
The success of Android is the result of a wide variety of products, from low-end to high-end smartphones with very different hardware specifications. The next step should be the ability to target particular applications for certain devices, and allow them to take full advantage of dual-core processors and hardware acceleration. That is absolutely critical now, according to Wood.