In connection with its developer conference this week, Google unveiled much-needed changes to its Android Market to improve discoverability of apps as its catalog surpasses 200,000 titles. The revamped storefront features new charts showing top free and paid apps, an editor's choice section, recommendations of related apps based on others' selections, and a showcase of trending apps.
Beginning in June, developers will also be able to create different versions of their apps for multiple devices and have the appropriate version in the Market delivered automatically to the end user. Developers can also upload an app to see how many, and which, Android devices the title can run on.
Earlier this year, Google acknowledged it wasn't happy with app sales and promised to improve discovery of apps and launch an in-app payment system for Android. It's also facing increasing competition from Amazon, which launched a rival Android app store in March, and cross-platform app store GetJar.
In revamping its own app storefront, Google seems to have borrowed features from Amazon, Apple and GetJar. The new charts of top free, paid and top-grossing apps mimics similar lists on the home page of Apple's App Store, as well as the greater prominence given to app icons overall. The Android Market's "Editor's Choice" selection of titles echoes the "Staff Favorites" section in the App Store.
From Amazon, Google has adapted the recommendation tool that suggests similar titles based on the choices of people who have downloaded the same app. The Android Market goes a step farther by also recommending apps frequently browsed by people who simply viewed, rather than installed, a particular app.
The Amazon Appstore for Android now has about 10,000 titles, just a fraction of the total in the Android Market, but growing. It also has a nifty Test Drive feature that utilizes its cloud computing technology to let users demo an app directly within their Web browser on a virtual smartphone screen before purchase. Almost a third of the titles in the Amazon Appstore include that capability.
The Android Market features video demos of apps but not the same type of simulations. Amazon's app storefront is more cluttered than Google's -- but the long list of categories on the left-hand side makes it easier to look up titles quickly by type.
The fact is, Amazon and Apple are both better and more experienced than Google at selling (remember the search giant's retail experiment with the Nexus One?) and packaging digital content and other products. So you can't blame the company for emulating the tactics of its rivals when it comes to offering apps. But once Amazon builds up its app catalog more, you have to wonder if its inherent advantages in online retail and its huge customer base won't make its Appstore the main way to get Android apps in the future.