Google's official Android app store is getting some competition as upstart, independent challengers create their own app stores to lure users with the promise of more freedom, better access to apps and increased revenue.
But it's all kosher because, unlike Apple, Google allows for multiple app stores to exist on the Android operating system.
A new Android app store called AndSpot plans to coax developers and users to try an alternative Android app store with better search and app-recommendation features.
"Google's Android Market is slow and not as user friendly as it can be," says Ash Kheramand, one of the co-founders of AndSpot. "You don't leave the Market thinking 'this is great.' Instead you are thinking, this is slow, clunky, and if you are a developer, 'my app is not getting much exposure.'"
Over the next few weeks, Kheradmand and his co-founder Faisal Abid are hoping to unveil a snazzy new app store that they say will have better design and a better way to discover apps.
"We want to bring a level of personalization to the marketplace," says Kheradmand. AndSpot is currently in private beta with its features available only to a small group of developers and users. (Two hundred Gadget Lab readers can check out Andspot using the invite code: WIRED3R5TY.)
Andspot is not the only one trying to take on the official Google app store. Larger publishers such as Handango and GetJar have distributed a number of apps through their stores across multiple platforms â€" though on the iPhone they just publish individual apps.
But now smaller Android exclusive startups such as Andspot, SlideMe and AndAppStore are getting into the fray. Why develop just an app when you can build an app store, they say.
Similar to the official Google app store, these startups are hoping to become a central distribution platform for developers who want to get their apps out. The difference, they say, is they will go where Android Market has failed to tread.
"It's all about promising more attention for apps," says Vincent Hoogsteder, co-founder and CEO of Distimo, an apps analytics company. "If you are a developer targeting a specific market, it is easier to put your app in a store focusing on that, instead of losing yourself in the Android Market. If you are a consumer, then the idea is to help you find better apps."
Google launched Android, an open, free, mobile operating system, in 2008. And like Apple, which pioneered the app-store idea, the Android OS also allows independent software applications through its Android Market. But that's where the comparison ends.
Apple approves every app that makes it to its App Store. And it allows for just one app store, the Apple App Store. Rejects from Apple's app store have the option of going to an underground store called Cydia. But Cydia apps are available to only jailbroken iPhones.
Google hopes to avoid that with Android. Multiple app stores can exist on the Android phone and apps don't have to be approved before they hit the official Android app store.
In an intensely crowded app world, getting noticed is the big challenge. Finding Facebook, Shazam or Pandora on the Android Market is easy. But for smaller apps like Time Lapse or Zum Zum, the key to survival is finding enough eyeballs.
"There are 50,000 apps in the Android Market, while your phone lists only 50 apps at a time," says Hoogsteder. "You are seeing just a fraction of what's out there."
That's why many new Android app stores such as AndroLib and AppBrain have focused on being meta-stores, places that aggregate and let you search Android apps. But to actually download the apps, users have to go to the Android Market.
AndSpot and SlideMe are a step ahead. They are trying to convince enough developers to publish apps directly to their stores, in addition to offering them on the official Google Market. So users who have SlideMe or AndSpot will never have to go to the Android Market, if they don't want to. Developers don't have to make any changes to their apps intended for the Google Android Market before they list it on AndSpot or SlideMe.
SlideMe, which launched in April 2008, doesn't take a cut of the revenue from app sales. When apps are sold through its store, SlideMe subtracts a payment-processing fee required by the credit card company (which usually is about 3.5 percent) and any applicable tax, and lets developers keep the rest. Apple and Google both allow developers to keep just 70 percent of the revenue they get from their sales.
Instead, SlideMe makes money by licensing its entire app store to gadget manufacturers. That also means SlideMe's app store will come pre-loaded on a phone similar to Google's Android Market.
Last year, SlideMe landed its first deal with Vodafone Egypt to pre-load its app store on the HTC Magic. The SlideMe app store will also be on Sony Ericsson's Xperia X10 phones sold in the Middle East.
"Not all manufacturers can comply with the requirements of Google, so Google can't give them the app store," says Christopoulos. "That's why SlideMe can be on more than just phones. We are thinking netbooks and in-car infotainment systems."
AndSpot says, for now, it plans to offer developers an 80 percent cut of the revenues from its app store. But Kheradmand is not sure AndSpot can sustain the pace. "We are operating on very thin margins here," he says.
Offering developers more revenue by finding ways to make money off their apps is key to the survival of these independent app stores.
Google's Android Market lags behind its peers when it comes to paid apps. Distimo's analytics show almost 75 percent of apps in the Apple App Store are paid, compared to just under 43 percent in the Android Market.
Only nine countries are allowed to distribute Android paid apps currently because of Google checkout restrictions, points out Hoogsteder. Consumers from only 13 countries can get access to paid content.
That cuts out a lot of international developers and users, says Christopoulos. For instance, a Polish developer created a game called Speed Forge 3D that couldn't be sold through the Android app store in many countries because of restrictions around Google Checkout. The app is listed on SlideMe for approximately $3.
SlideMe will also focus on localized apps and tailor its app store by country.
"You might be from a country in the Middle East and not speak English. We can help you find apps in your local language," says Christopoulos.
AndSpot says both users and developers will find the independent Android-focused app stores a sweet deal.
"Users will go where the apps are, and developers will be attracted because they have nothing to lose," says Kheradmand.