Friday, May 15, 2009

The Android Market: A Publisher's Perspective

Here's an interesting interview with Android developer Matt Kronyak. When asked about the Android Market's distribution method, he hits the nail on the head:
I think everyone recognizes that the Market needs some work. An open market is certainly a more competative market and will really give small to medium sized developers a chance to compete on an even playing ground. In comparison to the iTunes store I would say the open market model for the Android Market has the potential to be more profitable and fair for small developers.

The main improvements I would like to see in the Android Market include more specific categories, better ways for users to find and filter apps, a better rating system, and a way for developers to respond to user comments.

Sometimes users will leave a comment and give a bad rating for situations that the developer could help them with if only they had some way of contacting or responding to that user. Facilitating communications between developers and users would be the biggest improvement the Market could have.
Yes...lawd yes. I will get comments like "Has a bug" which doesn't do any good for either me or that user or future users. I do appreciate when users email me comments...the more specific the better. I also put up a bulletin board on my website for this purpose (though no one has used it). Matt is right that we need increased facilitation of communication, through the market, between users and developers. It would make everybody's life better.

Here's what he says about the rating system:
The Rating/Feedback system is a really weak point for the market right now. Users can buy an app, leave a review and then get a refund. Their review stays even if they never use the app again. Its also not clear what version of an app a comment is refering to. In many cases we see old comments that people do not update reporting a problem that was fixed a long time ago. For paid apps I would like to see comments removed from users who don’t actually own the app (users who refunded).

Another problem with the Rating/Feedback system is that there is now ay for the developer to get in contact with the user or to respond to their comment. Some comments are simply false, while others may be because the user doesn’t understand how to use the app correctly. If the developer could contact the user to help them out I think everyone would be better served (the app would get a better rating, the user would get the help he needs and have a better experience, and the market will sell more apps).
I agree in general, but I don't agree with the specific suggestion of removing comments from people who have uninstalled the app. If a user has downloaded an app, tried it and didn't like it for legitimate reasons, that's useful information for other potential downloaders to have. What we do desperately need is some way for developers to address comments. For the iPhone, developers have a huge amount of space for the app description, in which they can address common questions and inaccurate comments. Android publishers, on the other hand, get 325 characters. Not words...characters.
Just to give you an idea, this paragraph contains 325 characters. That isn't a lot of space. Speaking of spaces, they count spaces as characters. Try explaining what an app does, what features it has, and what various updates have fixed/changed all in 325 characters or less. It's not just difficult. It's downright impossibl
I initially published a concrete calculator. It sold about 20 copies before I got a 1-star review from a user who said that the calculations were incorrect. Sales disappeared after that. And guess what? He was flat out full of shit. The app simply calculates the volume of a's length x width x height. It wasn't incorrect, but a single spurious comment from some dickhead stopped my middling sales in their tracks. This week, I simply repackaged the app with a different name, icon, and a couple of small UI improvements, but the same math. It's currently got 5 stars and is selling several a day.

Anyway, I really do hope that they're working on the way the market is formatted. As it grows, it's going to become more and more important to be able to sift through the thousands of apps and find good ones. I find it ironic that Google is having problems instituting a good system for sorting and searching apps. They did a great job with the recent OS update; hopefully they've got good people working on market improvements.


lugose said...

Nice article. The most frustrating thing about the reviews is that if they aren't helpful, then there is nothing I can do to prevent the problem the person encountered. I would say if you are going to leave a bad review at least send a short email with some information about the problem. The developers email address is on the same page in the market...

Thanks, it's nice to know that others find it frustrating, I just hope google is listening.

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