Why Does Android Have No Killer Apps?
That's basically the question John Gruber tried to answer, in his essay, "Where Are the Android Killer Apps?" Because while Google makes some compelling reasons to go Android, if you leave out Google's apps there aren't any that make you feel like you're missing out if you don't have an Android phone. They're either available for the iPhone too, or they just aren't all that compelling.
Why is that?
That's the word most people use to describe the diversity in the Android world. See, they're used to the iPhone world, where Apple makes everything. But in the Android world, handset makers like HTC can use the Android operating system to make phones without paying Google a license fee. So it seems to outsiders like Android is "fragmented" between manufacturers, when the reality is that it's a freely-available component that companies use to make phones.
The problem starts when you compare Android phones with each other. Can the low-end HTC Wildfire play Angry Birds? Can the Atrix buy apps from Amazon's "Appstore?" If you think that's confusing, it's even more confusing for app developers, who get flooded with reviews saying "it doesn't work on my phone."
You'll find most "name-brand" apps on Android, because big companies can afford to pay people to deal with this problem. Indie app developers are turned off by it, though, and the developers who do write apps for Android consider it a problem. Partly because it means more work for them, and partly because the compromises they make — to put apps on phones with wildly different screen sizes and processing power — often result in apps that look terrible.
For a variety of reasons (although some of these have changed over time), people just aren't making as much money on the Android Market as they are on the App Store. A lot of the money they are making comes from ads on free apps, instead of app sales, suggesting that Android phone owners aren't as willing to part with their money.
That's all on the Android Market, though. It's not the only place to buy Android apps, and the Amazon Appstore is adopting a lot of the policies and features that made Apple's profitable, plus combining them with Amazon.com's massive marketing engine. It may become a force to be reckoned with. It's unlikely to replace the Android Market anytime soon, though … for now, it's just another part of the "fragmentation" problem.
By that, I mean "what sets Android apart." And the problem is, it's not much, or at least not much that's easily explainable. Hardware keys? Home screen widgets? Open-source programming code? How do you tell anyone why they want these things, if they don't already know?
App developers are facing the same problem. What reason is there for them to write Android apps, instead of apps for anything else? Is there anything they can do on Android that they can't anyplace else? As it turns out, there is, but it involves low-level system things like making the home screen look different. And while that's a boon to manufacturers like HTC, which use custom-designed home screens, it's not the kind of feature that makes you want to run out and buy an Android phone.
The upshot is that the only non-Google apps that are only for Android are the kind that wouldn't work anyplace else, and they tend to only be attractive to hardcore customizers. Android is a haven for them, but there's a lot else that it's missing out on.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.
This article is brought to you by Alinas Guide.