07:11 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman

Android Market Update: Why It Matters

Google is juicing up the Android Market with features aimed at helping end users and developers alike.

The Android Market has swollen in recent weeks past the 200,000-application mark. With applications being added every day, standing out in the crowd is becoming more and more difficult. Enter today's Market redesign.

Google announced a significant refresh to the Web interface of the Android Market on Wednesday and plans to push out an update to the Market on Android devices in the coming weeks. The goal of the update is to increase the visibility of the best applications and give developers (more) credit for their hard work.

The Web-based version of the Android Market is receiving five new categories to help sort through applications: Top Apps, Editor's Choice, Top Developers, Related Apps, and Trending Apps. Each presents apps in a different way to make the discovery process more compelling and less annoying. Despite these improvements to the Web interface, the more important story is being told on Android devices directly.

The Android Market application for end-user devices is receiving a major overhaul that makes it look and act more like Apple's App Store does on the iPhone. This is a good thing. The old version of the Android Market isn't nearly as feature rich as it should be, and unless you have tons of time on your hand to browse through apps, it can be difficult to find exactly what you're looking for. Even the search function falls flat at times.

Looking at the new version headed to phones, it appears entirely different. Gone is the three-column view that greets users today; instead there will be colorful panels promoting the top apps and most popular downloads. It looks far more engaging. What's not clear is how Google will allow handset vendors and carriers to customize the appearance of the Market. With the old version, carriers and OEMs can customize the appearance a bit, and that makes for a disjointed experience across devices and carriers. Google couldn't immediately say if the new Market application will also be customizable by the carriers and OEMs.

These changes are sure to make developers happy, but they'll likely enjoy the under-the-hood improvements even more.

The new Android Market will allow developers to selectively target--or not target--devices. They'll be able to block or hide their applications, for example, from all devices running older versions of Android or form factors that aren't optimized for their applications. Developers will also be able to place larger applications in the Market and have the opportunity to upload draft applications and see how they'll perform on different handsets.

Google is also launching operator billing support in an additional 99 countries in the coming weeks, and it said that the first 45 days of in-app purchasing has led to striking earnings power for those applications.

If there's one thing that Google has done this week at I/O, it is to sell its story to the thousands of developers who enhance Google's services. These changes to the market, while seemingly modest, will help developers get the visibility they deserve and make the app discovery process easier for end users. The result will be more apps downloaded by more people, and money in developers' pockets.

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