Developers complain about Android sales

Some say problems with Android's online market make it hard to earn money on Google's mobile-phone platform

Android Market, Google's equivalent of Apple's App Store, is just getting off the ground

Android Market, Google's equivalent of Apple's App Store, is just getting off the ground

The Android Market probably produces less than US$5 million a month, despite a recent report that issued that estimate, one successful application developer says.

On Monday, games developer Larva Labs revealed its sales figures for its Android apps and complained that Google needs to make some changes to help developers improve their prospects. It suspects that the Android Market probably produces far less than $5 million per month, as estimated by the AdMob report. That same report estimated that the iPhone application store generates $200 million a month, the veracity of which also has been the subject of much developer debate.

Larva Labs joins a chorus of developers, many of whom have been long clamoring for changes in the way the Android Market works in hopes of earning more from their applications.

One of Larva Labs' games, RetroDefense, was ranked first among paid apps in the Market and is now at number two. Another of its games, Battle for Mars, is ranked number five. Both games have been featured at the top of the Market and on the Android Web site. Yet the games are averaging $62 per day in sales combined. "Very difficult to buy the summer home at this rate," Matt Hall of Larva Labs noted in the blog post.

He compares Larva Labs' experience in the Android store to some of the better-known success stories on the iPhone. The game Trism, for example, earned $250,000 in its first two months in the iPhone store, according to its developer at Demiforce. Over about three months in the Android store, Trism falls in the rank of applications with 100 to 500 downloads. At $2.99 per download, that's a maximum of less than $1,500 in sales.

One issue is that there are far fewer Android phones than iPhones in the market. But developers say there are bigger problems with the Android Market than that.

Since the Market began accepting paid applications, developers have complained about a number of items that haven't yet changed. One is that the only way that users can buy applications is using Google Checkout, a payment system that isn't widely used. Developers want to be able to offer customers more payment options that they might find more convenient.

They may get other options in the future, although it's not certain when or in what form. In the terms of service that Android users must agree to before using the phones, Google says that it may make available various payment processing methods for buying products from the Market.

Larva Labs and other developers also complain about some other somewhat basic limiting features of the Market, such as a short maximum on how many characters a developer can use to describe their application and the inability to include a screenshot in the description.

In a follow-up blog post on Tuesday, Larva Labs pointed to additional issues such as Google's policy of allowing users to refund an application for any reason within 24 hours. The "refund process is just too simple," one developer agreed in a Google forum thread titled "sad application sales."

Developers say that users can too easily game the return policy. "If my plane is delayed and I get a solid two hours of enjoyment from a $3 jumpy game, I shouldn't be able to refund it 24 hours later," Larva Labs' John Watkinson argues in the Tuesday blog post.

Google did not immediately reply to a request for comment about Larva Labs' complaints.

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