The rapid spread of Android in 2010 positioned the Google mobile operating system to overtake Apple's iOS in U.S. market share this year. Could the same be true of apps? According to data released last week by app-tracking service AndroLib, the Android Market now boasts more than 200,000 titles.
Google officially said in October it had 100,000 apps in its mobile storefront. So if AndroLib count is accurate, it means the total doubled in just the last two months of 2010. At that pace, the number of Android apps would eclipse the App Store's current total of 300,000 before mid-year. But even if the report overstates the Android Market's growth, it's clear Google is closing the ground on Apple in the size of its app catalog.
What was once an obvious advantage for Apple in the smartphone game -- the sheer volume of apps on offer -- is no longer. But the perception of the iPhone as the No. 1 platform for launching a branded app remains intact. The Apple device is still Broadway to Android's Off-Broadway when it comes to debuting apps.
To be sure, where developers once only focused on the iPhone, they're now as likely to create apps for both, if not BlackBerry and other mobile operating systems as well. But the iPhone is still usually the first stop for apps with big ambitions. The iPhone provided the launching pad for the app phenomenon of "Angry Birds" before it migrated to Android, Symbian and other platforms.
What's more, Rovio, the company behind the wildly popular game, last month launched its own in-app, carrier billing system with Finnish carrier Elisa out of frustration with Android Market's payment system. The Google app storefront has tended to push a higher percentage of free, ad-supported titles than the App Store to date. Buying Android apps could become more commonplace this year, though, with AT&T last month adding carrier billing for Android Market purchases.
Still, the perception of Android Market as less than a clean, well-lighted place in which to do business has held some brands back from using it. Explaining his company's delay in rolling out an Android app, Netflix executive Greg Peters in November pointed to security concerns. "The same security issues that have led to piracy concerns on the Android platform have made it difficult for us to secure a common Digital Rights Management (DRM) system on these devices," he wrote on the company blog. Netflix is supposed to be available for instant streaming on select Android phones early this year.
Whether Android Market's expansion this year will be matched by a growing comfort among brands and developers will be interesting to watch. They may complain loudly about the tightly-policed app ecosystem created by Apple, but at the same time appreciate that it runs like a well-oiled (money) machine. Certainly, a hit app originating on Android, if not necessarily on the level of "Angry Birds," would help cement its status as a top-flight smartphone OS. Maybe a 21st-century version of "Space Invaders" renamed "Angry Androids"?