Google opens Android store to paid apps

Google is opening an Android store and charging for applications.

Google's Android Market has business and social apps available for Android phones

Google's Android Market has business and social apps available for Android phones

Developers of Android applications finally will be able to charge consumers for them, ending a few months of free Android downloads and potentially making Google's mobile platform more attractive to developers.

U.S. and U.K. developers can now go to the Android publisher Web site and upload their applications along with consumer pricing. Paid applications will go on sale in the U.S. starting in the middle of next week and in additional countries in the coming months, Google's Eric Chu wrote in a blog post Friday.

The Android Market launched in October when the first phone based on the platform went on sale. But until now, it hasn't had any checkout or payment system, so application publishers have only been able to offer free software. Google had said it would start allowing sales early this year.

The post did not indicate how much the applications might cost, saying only that developers would be able to "upload their application(s) along with end-user pricing." Unlike on the App Store for Apple's iPhone, developers don't need to get their products approved by Google or by service providers. All they have to do is register for US$25 and upload their apps.

The payment and billing tool for Android Market will be Google Checkout. That platform, launched in 2006, allows payment through major credit cards and lets users save their payment information on the site.

Later this quarter, developers in Germany, Austria, Netherlands, France and Spain will be able to offer paid applications, and by the end of the quarter, additional countries will be announced, Chu wrote.

Also on Friday, Chu wrote that Android Market for free applications will become available to phone users in Australia beginning Sunday, Pacific time. Singapore users will get access in the coming weeks. The Android-based HTC Dream handset is set to launch on Monday in Australia and later in Singapore.

Developers are likely to take a wait-and-see attitude to selling Android applications, said analyst Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence. With the low price of a typical mobile application, developers may be drawn to the platform slowly as they watch the audience grow, he said.

"The sweet spot is really $1.99 or less. I think that's been pretty well-established by Apple," Sterling said.

Writing applications for the iPhone offers much more potential for volume today. There are more than 15,000 applications available from the App Store, and consumers have downloaded more than 500 million, according to Apple. There were 13.7 million iPhones sold in 70 countries last year. By contrast, the only Android phone available now is the T-Mobile G1, which is on sale in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Austria, Poland, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. There are more than 1,000 applications on the Android Market, and thousands of developers are writing for it, according to Google.

For Google Checkout, the Android Market could be a big opportunity, Sterling said. Originally seen as a potential rival to eBay's PayPal, Checkout hasn't grabbed much market share, he said.

"It never really materialized as a threat to PayPal," Sterling said.

As a Web-based service, Checkout is fairly straightforward, but it will be critical for Google to make it easy for Android phone users to start using it, he said. Apple signs up iPhone users for its iTunes store as part of the activation process for the handset.

"If (Google) blows this part of it, then developers will be upset, and (Android) will be a less successful platform overall," Sterling said.

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