To market, to market: Android's app store options

One of the areas of concern surrounding the iPhone is its reliance on its single App Store. The only way for developers to readily distribute applications is via the App Store, and the only way consumers can get applications is via the App Store. This has led to many charges against Apple, particularly in its approach towards determining what is and is not allowed to be listed in the App Store.

Android's calling card is being open, so it comes as no surprise that there are many more options for installing applications on Android.

Of course, most of the attention has been aimed at the Android Market, which offers over-the-air (OTA) application installations, just like the iPhone App Store. And, like the iPhone App Store, Android Market will be available on the T-Mobile G1 and, presumably, other Android devices in the future. Details on the Android Market are somewhat sketchy at this time, as the Market is not open for business until, presumably, sometime around the release of the G1 on October 22nd.

However, unlike the iPhone App Store, the Android Market is not the only venue for distributing applications to Android devices. In fact, if you want to charge for an application, at the outset, you need to use some other venue, as the Android Market's initial beta release is believed to only support free applications.

Here are some alternative distribution venues to the Android Market:

  • Handango, a long-time fixture in the mobile app marketplace, announced that they will be selling Android applications via the Handango Android Catalog.
  • SlideME and AndAppStore each offers their own OTA application outlet.
  • You can distribute applications via any Web site, so long as the Web server is properly configured.

Some people have grumbled that this will harm Android: rather than having only one place to look for applications, now users may have several. However, unless some of these markets elect to go with exclusive-rights contracts, it is likely that the same application may appear in multiple markets, possibly at different price points to pass along savings from whatever fee structures the markets establish.

More importantly, though, the open-to-all-comers installation system is just part and parcel of the Android openness story. You cannot simultaneously have an open operating system and a closed market, expecting people to just accept that dichotomy.

Besides, if multiple distribution channels is truly an issue for users, they'll just tend to use just one, and the market will choose a clear winner via network effects. Android can let the market sift that out, and provide the opportunity for competition among markets, rather than try to blend an open theme with an authoritarian app distribution model.

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