Commentary

Bad Robot! Clean Up This Mess

It was an act of spiteful anger that sent me back into the Android Marketplace yesterday. Apple made me do it. After the 3G S announcement yesterday, of course I had to see about the possibility of an upgrade from my current 3G.

Zoinks! According to Apple/AT&T's online ordering mechanism, I won't qualify for a "standard iPhone upgrade" until 12/12/09. I am guessing that "standard iPhone upgrade" means being able to get the 3G S at a reasonable price, because until then it will cost me $399 to get a 16GB model and $499 for the 32GB unit. I won't even address the argument that AT&T deserves to get its money's worth from me on the subsidized 3G I have only had for a year. I have to believe that in the next week,someone in that company will recognize that you want your heaviest users and your best army of proselytizers working for you and not against you. The #AT&T thread on Twitter went ballistic yesterday, as it should, so it will be interesting to see how much heat the company is willing to endure. Nuff said.

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In the same sort of huff with which you storm out of your house to the local bar, knowing full well you will be back in a few hours, I grabbed the G1 in a twisted attempt to make the temporarily evil iPhone/AT&T conspiracy jealous.

That didn't work any better than storming out of the house angry. Last week T-Mobile pushed out to the G1 the version 1.5 update to the Android OS. It promises faster Web and video performance, among other things. What it doesn't give you is a cleaner, tidier Marketplace. Maybe it is just me, but the Android Marketplace feels like the kind of shapeless, cacophonous mosh pit of apps that a true Google geek might love but is sure to turn off ordinary consumers and marketers. Try the Entertainment category and you will scroll through pages and pages of individual apps for "Top Sexy Ladies" from some company named Perfect Acumen, Inc. These guys are selling apps that contain images and a bio of models and actresses for $4.99 per app. You often have to scroll through multiple screens just to get beyond the garbage filling some of the categories. Comments sections often get filled with weird back and forths. One music app seemed to become an occasion for accusations of racism. And enough with the damn "soundboards" of media clips from film and TV. Again, the obvious but very real weakness of an open market on a small device is that the channel gets so cluttered so quickly with irrelevant apps that it discourages browsing.

To be sure, some of this silliness goes on in Apple's App Store as well. There is a Hot Weather Girls app for instance (weather updates on pin-up-style bikini images) that attracts rude blasts that the girls are "fugly." And the book section often gets stuffed with endless iterations of Japanese language manga. Nevertheless, Android continues to suffer from the lack of strong app merchandising anywhere in the system. The absence of screenshots in the Market on deck is a major oversight. The visuals in the Apple App Store are one of the user's main hedges against crappy downloads. In Android I have to go to the woefully understocked online shop at Andorid.com to get screens that look smaller online than they do on a phone.

For all of the complaints about discovery in the App Store, there is something to be said for a system where recognizable brands tend to float to the surface. The theory of an open marketplace where any publisher has a chance to make a hit is nice -- in theory. In practice, the fact that Sims 3, ESPN, AP and the major movie studios usually are lurking somewhere near the top of most app lists helps to anchor the market in the familiar and the trusted. One of the problems I find in the Android market is a lot of brand confusion. Icons and apps use major media brands like Facebook and CNN in the title of their apps, when in reality they are just RSS feeds or unaffiliated apps and browser shortcuts pulling from the major brand. Some of that goes on in the Apple store, but it is rife in the Android Market.

I am not dumping on the Android Market so much as urging some kind of positive change for a platform that has great promise. I have used the G1 enough to know that I don't give up much in switching between iPhone and Android. This is a very promising alternative smart phone that has tremendous reach potential if more hardware manufacturers and carriers jump on board. But how fast should these partners join in, if the look and feel of the OS and the content ecosystem is still pretty rough and beta-like?

Perhaps the new iPhone 3G S will change the game and move the goal posts yet again on everyone, and all of these points will be moot. But I may not be able to tell you that for a while, you see. Because after spending about $2,000 with AT&T over the past two years (and even with the promise of spending another $2,000 at least in the next two years -- more if my daughter gets her way), that company doesn't see the economics in throwing this customer an upgrade price break.

Maybe that Android Market is not so fugly after all. Throw back a couple of drinks and keep the bar lights dim and it may not look so bad after all. Maybe I'm not ready to go home just yet.

7 comments about "Bad Robot! Clean Up This Mess".
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  1. Dean Collins from Cognation Inc, June 9, 2009 at 2:44 p.m.

    Yeh but at least the Android market isn't a locked down 'nanny land' of all thats 'approved' in the world.

    Having said that yes the current market sucks, bring on the third party app stores (even the apple store could do with better functions.....lol tough of course that wont pass the "nanny land" decision process.

    What i want to see is a single location http://www.MobileAppStore.com that allows for all oss platforms eg

    http://iphone.mobileappstore.com
    and even for various handset models
    http://samsung.mobileappstore.com

    Let the battle of the 3rd party app stores begin.

    Cheers,
    Dean

  2. Persia Tatar, June 9, 2009 at 2:57 p.m.

    Great article Steve! And in true spirit of the internet & social media, this petition...err twitition.. has sprung up on twitter

    http://twitition.com/f96aq

  3. Steve Smith from Mediapost, June 9, 2009 at 3:21 p.m.

    @Dean It would be cool to see third parties develop markets. Even the Android Web market is pretty poor and incomplete. But as I said, I find myself more comfortable in the "Nanny Land" of Apple than the mosh pit of Android.

  4. Scott Volk from self, June 9, 2009 at 3:33 p.m.

    I enjoyed and appreciated your marketing and technical thoughts as well as your humor. Very good post.

  5. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, June 9, 2009 at 4:56 p.m.

    Hear hear. Love your post. Though, I'd substitute Palm's Pre at the bar and you might not have to drink quite as much... As for AT&T vs. Apple. I really got a passive/aggressive vibe from Apple during the presentation yesterday -- the sly way they talked about the cool new features that AT&T doesn't support. I kinda wonder if Apple isn't looking for a little rebellious uprising in its last year of exclusivity with Grandma Bell... I for one am thinking wait out the last year of my contract so I can jump unfettered to Verizon (please let it be Verizon) when the new snappier iPhone v4 is rolled out. God knows, AT&T doesn't appear to want my continued business. Otherwise they would have simply added two years to my existing contract, right? Doesn't take an Apple Genius. Or does it?

  6. Shane Bogardus from OnRoute Digital Media, June 9, 2009 at 5:11 p.m.

    You are seeing once again the man behind the curtain...products with no brand identity or loyalty leads to anarchy. (-many say there is no more loyalty in brands - bs - everyone relates to familiarity especially when it is priced right!) AT&T better bend over backwards as Verizon is knocking at the door in '10...and look out if they get their hands on it!

  7. Jim Dugan from PipPops LLC, June 11, 2009 at 12:49 p.m.

    Wait until you wake up in the morning and the lights are on!

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