Feb 10

Android: desperately seeking numbers

Quantity again stalks its old nemesis, quality

Hard to believe iPhone ever existed without apps, isn’t it? Especially since apps have become the biggest differentiator between Apple and its competitors. At last count, iPhone boasted about 150,000 apps to Android’s 20,000.

(Ironic that Apple should wield such a lopsided advantage here, since it was stuck on the pathetic side of the app equation in the early days of the PC wars.)

So what do you do if your mission in life is to get Android’s numbers closer to iPhone’s? Well, one quick fix is to simply lower your standards. Even better, you can nix your standards altogether.

Sensing opportunity when critics started attacking Apple for its flawed app approval process, Android simply did away with those pesky approvals. You develop ’em, they’ll sell ’em. Power to the people.

Once the giddiness subsides, however, reality sinks in. If you think Apple’s huge library of apps contains a few clunkers, wait till you see what qualifies for sale in the Android Market. Without a vetting process, they’re not just welcoming bad apps. They’re welcoming nasty apps. Even outright dangerous apps. But they sure are pumping up the numbers.

Maybe Apple isn’t so big-brotherly after all? Maybe there’s something to be said for that quaint idea of quality control — for letting customers buy with a degree of confidence.

The fact is, the App Store is not perfect. No one’s ever sold software on this scale before, and surely Apple will make some mistakes along the way. I do hope they invent ways to make the approvals process more fair — but I’m grateful they have an approvals process in the first place.

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  • Bill

    Got some links for the android stinkers?
    Curious what counts.

  • ken segall

    Nope. I base this opinion only on what I’ve read and good old common sense. Apple is known to have an active vetting process with frequent rejections — and still people complain that there are too many crappy apps in there. Just imagine the quality of the resulting library if one were to welcome not only the legitimate developers, but incompetents and those wishing to do harm as well. Android is purposefully building a “market” instead of a store. That’s more like buying at a street fair than a department store. Buyer beware.

  • Totally agree with your post. Android users are already getting viruses and malware and freezes and crashes on their phones! Must be fun, Android users!! It’s like PC vs. Mac all over again… but this time, people are smart enough to be flocking to the Mac of smartphones.

  • Andrew

    I agree but disagree. Having an approval process will obviously allow the best/more functional apps through, but Android is completely different. The only vetting process Android has is the user. Apps that suck, are malware or don’t function properly are usually given bad ratings and will eventually move to the bottom of the list where download numbers will decrease. This system, like Apple’s, is certainly not perfect but I think that with some small changes the Android market could be great. The user vetting process must stay as it fits with the already open source nature of Android. Although, I do believe there should a scan of some sort that would search the app for malware or bad code before it was allowed into the market.

    Android = More user freedom but more need to sift through the crap.
    Apple = Less user freedom with many good apps but some potentially good apps may be denied.

    I wish I could see how these two markets would have turned out had they started at the same time with similar numbers of users. Would Apple’s market be as big as it is today? Android has a tough task of playing catch up and I think that implementing a similar approval process like Apple’s would make that task even harder.

  • so, i’m just curious … going with the ‘vetting is good – open submissions are bad’ scenario … where exactly does that put all the fart apps on the iPhone Store?

    there might be thousands of apps having gone through the approval process, it doesn’t mean they’re all good or useful, kind of like saying that Wal*Mart has got to be the best store because it has sooooo much stuff … do you really need a reed whistle for $5 on your phone? really?

  • ken segall

    I think you’re exactly right — the Android users will become the vetting process, and the bad apps will drop toward the bottom of the list. But that will happen only after a good number of people learn the hard way. Personal preference, I suppose, but I’m not eager to be part of the vetting process. Also, it might be fun to speculate on what would have happened if the two approaches started simultaneously, but keep in mind that Apple got the head start because they stuck their necks out first. It’s an advantage they deserve. It sure would be harder for Android to catch up if they instituted an Apple-style vetting process. They’ve chosen to get on the fast track by putting their customers’ experience at risk.

  • ken segall

    The Wal-Mart analogy actually works pretty well for me. They sell a ton of stuff, including items of dubious usefulness, but at least they vet their vendors. They don’t just sell everything that shows up in their loading bay. So when I shop at Wal-Mart, I know that the thing I’m looking for — whether it’s a whoopee cushion or a microwave — will meet some minimum standard. I feel better buying it there than taking my chances with the guy selling it on a Manhattan street corner. I don’t mean to put down anyone who feels that the “wide open, unregulated” way is a more democratic or interesting way to go. (Although you can bet that you’ll see a hell of a lot more fart-quality apps in an unregulated world.) It’s just my personal preference. I’d rather have both a huge selection and a degree of trust in the apps I buy.

  • so you trust Apples’s judgement that dozens of fart apps are a good thing, like Wal*Mart’s dozens of cheap paper plates? interesting … just gross consumerism to me, not worthy of a plateau, but it would have been fun to sit in on the meeting to go through all the fart and penny whistle apps, line levels that don’t line, etc, …

    ‘dude … that app sucks! it’s really going to cheapen the brand if we put that out for sale …’

    ‘shut up, dude! Steve’ll hear you … you like your job? checking through apps that show how cool you are and eat through your battery in twice the time??? do you??? …’

    point is, the toothpaste is out of the tube, you’ll see tons of crap apps (and some good ones to be fair) on all sides of the great divide, because, like Wal*Mart, Apple has drunk from the sweet sweet well of impulsive consumer purchases … and like Wal*Mart, quality takes a second chair to quantity there… that’s something the PC side knows quite well and has banked on for decades, Apple’s just a bit late to that party … it should be interesting to watch …

  • ken segall

    You seem to damn Apple for having a vetting process, then damn them for approving too many crappy apps. What is it that you favor? I don’t think Apple is getting sucked into a frame of mind where it puts quantity ahead of quality — that’s what Android is busy doing to catch up. I see Apple putting the quality of the experience first, and as a result being criticized by those who want a more open system.

    You raise an interesting point about the philosophical differences between Mac and PC. Those differences do seem to be playing themselves out in the phone wars as well. Apple pushes a system that is more closed/protected in the name of a superior user experience, while the PC side is all about openness, freedom, sheer quantity of choice. It’s just a little odd that the side promoting choice has a library of apps that is only a small fraction of what the App Store has with its restrictive process. Okay, so that’s only the result of Apple having a big head start — but that doesn’t change the current reality. Apple offers both the biggest choice and the highest security.

  • sorry i wasn’t clear … i wasn’t damning them or not damning them … i was trying to say it’s the same whether they vetted anything or not … lots of crap makes into the marketplace … and the process is really not that restrictive, but it sounds nice. to question the vetting, just go to the app store and look around… real quality control would offer the best few spread sheets (you need a spread sheet on your phone???) instead of 27 to choose from … that’s just pandering to the lowest common denominator while calling it ‘looking out for you’ … good spin.

    ‘quality controlling’ bamboo whistle apps or ‘judging’ which solitaire apps are ‘the stuff of Apple’ seems, to me, to be like Wal*Mart judging which paper plates make it to their fine establishments shelves … and again, there are some nice apps amongst the mass of junk, like the dozens of apps that will put a rotating crop of of soft core porn on your screen … vital, i know, to some and worthy of a tough review process (when you can just get to a porn site via your browser) …

    that’s all i was saying … as for biggest choice? time will tell. the consumer will dictate, via demand, and it’s not too far off in the distance. the competition has entered the field with a different approach … as for security? not really sure who’s going to get what out of your iPhone via one of the myriad pet rock apps, but sure, sounds good …