Web store and in-app purchases coming to Android

Google opened a new Web store for Android applications and said in-app purchasing is coming soon

The new look Android Market allows app purchases from a computer

The new look Android Market allows app purchases from a computer

Google on Wednesday introduced a new Android Market Web store and said in-app purchasing is coming soon.

The company also showed off some features of Honeycomb, its latest version of Android designed for tablets, emphasizing back-end tools that it says enable better and easier development of applications.

The new Android Market Web store lets anyone look for applications in the Android Market from a Web browser. Users can buy applications from a computer and the application will automatically start downloading to their phone.

Users with multiple Android devices will be able to choose which device they want the application downloaded to. In addition, when a user hits the buy button to purchase an app, only devices that are capable of running the application will appear.

Developers have more tools for promoting their applications with the Web store, said Chris Yerga, engineering director at Google. They can upload high-resolution photos and YouTube videos and show a list of other applications they've developed in order to encourage users to buy multiple applications.

A "my account" page lets users see all the apps they've purchased and install applications on different devices.

Google is also adding a new currency support feature to the Android Market that lets developers enter specific prices in different currencies. Currently, the market uses a process where the currency is sometimes automatically converted in a way that may look confusing to end users.

Google also announced that it plans to add support for in-app purchases so that developers can sell additional features or services from within their apps. Google is releasing the SDK for in-app purchases now with plans for the capability to be live to users by the end of the quarter. It has already begun working with a small number of developers to include the capability in their applications.

Executives also talked up aspects of the Honeycomb operating system aimed at helping developers.

"Our approach has been to equip developers with the best possible toolkit and get out of the way," said Hugo Barra, a product management director with Google.

Applications that were initially developed for previous versions of Android and designed for smartphones will work on tablets, filling up the full screen. "An app designed with our recommended developer guidelines will work without any modifications," he said. That's an advantage over iPhone apps, which don't always fully work on the iPad.

Google has also added some additional capabilities that developers can build into their apps with Honeycomb. One is application "fragments" that lets developers divide an application into different sections. As an example, Barra displayed Gmail, which has a left column with folders and a right column with a list of recent messages. Clicking on a message shifts the columns, removing the far left column and adding a new one with the message.

That's one way that developers can use a new modular development capability in Honeycomb, he said.

He also showed ways that developers can use "3D" capabilities. He showed YouTube, which on Honeycomb appears like a carousel of blocks showing videos. Users can scroll the carousel so that it appears to rotate.

Honeycomb also has a new animation framework that lets developers add smooth visual transitions as users move between applications.

Executives from CNN and Disney appeared at the event to show off their new applications. The CNN application brings its iReport feature to Honeycomb tablets. IReport lets individuals submit photos and video reports to CNN, which shares them online. Users will be able to use their Honeycomb tablets to take and submit videos.

Disney said it will offer Tap Tap Revenge for Android and said it waited until it was able to do in-app billing.

Motorola's Xoom and the LG G-Slate may be among the first Honeycomb tablets to hit the market. Motorola said it expects to start selling the Xoom in February and T-Mobile said it will start offering the G-Slate in the spring, which in North America is the first or second quarter.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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