What Do You Do With a Broken Android?

Android developers have a problem — Android. Here’s why one popular developer has given up:

We could re-engineer how Battleheart accesses its data to work with this new system. This isn’t an impossible task, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to dedicate resources to it. For one, we’re in the middle of production on another game, and can’t simply drop everything to implement this because Google finally delivered on a year-old promise. And secondly, as I mentioned on Twitter, our Android apps aren’t making money. A few people took offense to the bluntness of this statement, so I’ll clarify in more delicate terms. There’s a big difference between generating revenue, and “making money” – It’s not that they haven’t generated income, but that income is offset by the additional support costs the platform has demanded. Where did your dollar go? We spent about 20% of our total man-hours last year dealing with Android in one way or another – porting, platform specific bug fixes, customer service, etc. I would have preferred spending that time on more content for you, but instead I was thanklessly modifying shaders and texture formats to work on different GPUs, or pushing out patches to support new devices without crashing, or walking someone through how to fix an installation that wouldn’t go through. We spent thousands on various test hardware. These are the unsung necessities of offering our apps on Android. Meanwhile, Android sales amounted to around 5% of our revenue for the year, and continues to shrink. Needless to say, this ratio is unsustainable.


“But, but — open is better!”

Maybe not. As it turns out, developers aren’t the only ones giving up:

Eric Chu has stepped down as manager of Google’s troubled software market for Android, and is being replaced by Jamie Rosenberg from Google Music as the company aligns all of its digital content under the Google Play umbrella.


Last January, Chu admitted to “anxious app developers” that Google was “not happy” about the limited number of apps actually being purchased in Android Market, and outlined plans for turning the beleaguered software store around in 2011.


However, Android app sales have not dramatically turned around since, despite the fact that the majority of smartphones not running Apple’s iOS incorporate some version of Google’s Android platform software, providing the search giant with a large installed base to sell apps.

The question not being asked is, which installed base? Android 4.x is quite good — but fewer than 2% of Android phones are running it. Because of the multitude of hardware platforms Android sits on (not to mention the jiggering phone vendors do to the OS), handset makers have to jump through all kinds of tech hoops before they can roll out new versions to existing users. Incremental iOS uptakes, on the other hand, are nearly universal — and as instant as an iPhone or iPad user wants it to be.


As a result, most Android users are running older versions of the OS. How old? The dominant Android for 2012 is expected to be… 2.3 “Gingerbread,” which was first released in December of 2010. On the iOS side, a majority of users were already using the latest-and-greatest version by Christmastime, just two months after its release.

What’s a developer to do, when the newest APIs can work for only a tiny sliver of a fraction of potential customers?

When it comes to tablets, the situation is even more dire. There’s only one serious Android tablet, and that’s Amazon’s Kindle Fire — which doesn’t even count as an Android tablet. Amazon uses a heavily-altered version of Gingerbread, which can run apps only from Amazon’s own store. (“But open is better!”)

So if you’re a developer, you have a couple choices:

1. Make one version of your app for the latest version of Apple’s iOS, which is running on almost every in-use iPhone. And then make a slightly-altered version for 60 million iPad users, too.

2. Try and figure out what the hell to do with Android, which has almost no additional tablet customers for you to exploit.

If that’s not daunting enough, check out this chart:

To a developer, Android users suck, because they won’t pay for anything. Apparently, they’re plenty happy playing “Angree Bürds” they downloaded for free off some skanky server in Russia or wherever — so why pay five bucks for the real deal?


And ad revenue? There might be pushback against the ad model, as more stories like this start coming out:

MWR Infosecurity found that a significant number of the top 50 “free” apps which generate money for the developer and advertisers by connecting to an American advertising network pass on details about the phone’s user to the network – a move that may breach European data protection laws. With roughly a quarter of the UK’s phone users using Android phones, and with millions of apps downloaded every month – often for free, supported by advertising, rather than paid-for – the gap in security is a source of concern.

Uncertain ad revenue from a fractured user base, versus a near-monolithic user base of people happy to pay a few bucks for a quality app — that’s not much of a choice, is it?

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