Major League Baseball, like most big app publishers, has started making mobile apps for Google Android over the last couple of years, as Android-based smartphones have become very popular.But the app selling experience — especially for MLB and other premium publishers — is still much better at Apple’s iOS App Store than Google’s Android Market.
We talked to MLB.com CEO Bob Bowman this week about the differences in the markets, as Google has had to do some major cleanup of malicious apps in the Android App Store.
The biggest problem, he says: Google needs to do a better job curating its app store. (Perhaps even the way Apple forces publishers to get their apps approved before they’re available for purchase.)
Besides the risk of malware, there’s also an issue where phony apps get put up for sale in the market using the same name as MLB’s official app — “At Bat” — and people inadvertently buy them and then wonder why they don’t work.
Google is swift in its response, Bowman says, and takes the impostor apps down quickly. But that wouldn’t be a problem if Google put apps through an approval process in the first place.
(This is one area in particular where Google seems to pride itself for being “open.” But open, perhaps, isn’t better in this situation.)
There’s also a bigger piracy problem on Android, Bowman says — probably twice as bad as on Apple’s iOS, he estimates. People hack the MLB app, which costs $15, and then distribute it for free in back channels. This is much easier to do on Android than for the iPhone, as you have to hack your iPhone to side-load pirated apps, and most people don’t bother to do that. Most Android phones can easily install pirated apps.
Perhaps a big-picture problem is that Google — a company that generates almost all of its revenue from advertising — is biased toward free, ad-supported apps, and doesn’t care as much about selling premium content, like MLB’s relatively pricey app. Since most Android apps are free, there’s less need for a curtain, Bowman hypothesizes, because publishers aren’t missing out on sales.
Meanwhile, Android owners seem less interested in paying for apps than iPhone owners — perhaps in some part because of the way Google runs its store. Bowman estimates app sales are 5-to-1 in favour of Apple over Google, despite the fact that there are more Android subscribers in the U.S. than iPhone subscribers.
(Though, to be fair, Apple has the iPod touch and iPad tablet, which Google doesn’t. But we’ve heard similar stories from other premium publishers, where iOS sales still outnumber Android sales 10-to-1.)
Bottom line: Bowman wants Google to work a little harder to make the Android Market a better place for premium, paid apps.
“I think some sort of curation process would make a lot more content publishers put content that’s valuable on the device,” he says.