Google clarifies stance on paid apps

When the Android Market began offering paid apps last month, developers with the unlocked version of Google's Android phone quickly learned that they couldn't access them. The policy, which threatened to alienate the small developer base that Google needs to nurture at all costs, didn't make much sense. And now, with the release of Version 1.1 of Android for the developer phone, it looks like Google's clarified its stance a bit. Developers can access paid apps--as long as they aren't copy-protected.

In the blog post announcing the software update, developer advocate Dan Morrill explains the issue this way:

Many developers are concerned about the unauthorized redistribution of their applications, so they make use of the copy-protection feature (known as "forward locking") which prevents applications from being copied off devices. However, developer phones like the ADP1 allow for unrestricted access to the device's contents, making it impossible to enforce copy protection. As a result, the Market application on such devices is not able to access copy protected apps, whether they are free or paid. If you choose to add copy protection when you upload your application to the Android Market, then you won't be able to test it on the ADP1's Android Market client. Your application will always be accessible to users who have standard configurations though, and if your application (whether it is free or paid) is not copy-protected it will appear on all devices, including developer configurations.

The question now is what's the percentage of paid apps available via the Android Market that are copy-protected?

According to engadget's Nilay Patel, very few developers currently copy-protect their Android apps simply because Android's copy-protection scheme is notoriously weak. As Patel says:

ADP1 owners now have access to paid apps that don't have copy protection -- we're guessing that's not a large number.

And even if it is, Android developers can always play the "open" card. Unlike their iPhone brethren, who are locked to Apple's AppStore, Android developers can turn to other sites to access paid apps. As our own Mark Murphy explains, rather than waiting for the Android Market to get it right, Android developers can check out alternatives like AndAppStore, SlideME and Voeveo), among others.

So yes, Google can do what it wants when it comes to paid apps. But so can developers.

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