This post is the first in the ReadWrite series Making Android Pay, in which we'll explore the opportunities and challenges mobile developers face in trying to make money from Android apps.
In December 2011, Google chairman Eric Schmidt predicted that mobile developers would be building apps for Android first instead of iOS by the middle of 2012. That obviously hasn’t happened. But Google has doubled down on its push for more Android-first apps, largely by making it easier for developers to make money from them.
"It has taken a long time, it is slower than we like, but we are getting there,” Ibrahim Elbouchikhi, a product manager for Google Play Commerce, said during Google I/O last week.
Up to now, the main sticking point for many app creators has been simple: money. Make that, at least for most Android developers, the lack thereof. Until recently, Google just didn't offer tools that would let developers fully exploit the global Android ecosystem for their own financial advantage.
Developers: Show Us The Money
There's also the fact that, until Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and 4.1 Jelly Bean, Android apps just weren't as good as iOS counterparts. Google first had to give Android feature parity with the iPhone and iPad before it could begin optimizing the ecosystem for money-making.
"Last year was sort of about reaching feature parity with, let’s say, other competitive platforms, where this year it has been all about going up to the next level. Innovating, doing things that are different," Ellie Powers, product manager for Google Play, said in an interview with ReadWrite. "Like now we have the beta testing feature unique to our platform and other sources of analytics coming together."
Such bullishness hasn't yet dispelled doubts remain even among some of Android’s stoutest supporters, including some developers at I/O last week. One grilled Elbouchikhi about how much he could expect to make from a bona fide hit app. There's no easy answer to that question — let's just say that lots of variables are involved in that particular equation — but it's also a sign of just how heavily that question weighs on the minds of developers.
In this series, we'll take a close look at the new tools Google has rolled out to lure developers away from Apple and get them to develop for Android first. Let's just say that the thickness of developer wallets seems to be front and center in Google's thinking.
Aww, What A Cute Widdle Android Baby
Google still thinks of Android as a very young, even though it has been on the market for nearly five years and in development since 2005. "I feel like Android is a baby," said David Burke, engineering director for Android at an I/O session. "I think there is so much more we can do."
If Android itself is a baby, that makes the developer tools and monetization techniques Google has been pushing nearly newborn. The Google Play Developer Console — a suite of tools for publishing and distributing Android apps — was announced at I/O 2012. and the company has only been working on solving developers' biggest issues for about a year and a half.
Google realizes it still has developer issues with Android, from app discovery to user retention to the fundamental act of getting developers paid. But if we learned anything at I/O last week, it is that Google is aware of these problems and working hard to address them. In fact, almost every Android announcement at I/O last week was aimed at boosting Android's standing among developers by addressing its perceived shortcomings vis-a-vis iOS.
Will that make Android No. 1 in the hearts of mobile developers? We'll see.
"We are still very new. My mother still hasn’t figured out why people would want to buy apps. But most people have. I think there are a lot more business models that are going to develop in the future," Powers said.
What will it take for you to build for Android first? Let us know in the comments.
Next: New tools in Google Play for getting you paid.
Top image: The Google Android team onstage for a fireside chat at I/O 2013. All photos by Nick Statt for ReadWrite