March 8, 2009 | by Andrew Kameka
Google angered many Android fans when it revealed that unlocked G1 developer phones cannot access copy-protected paid apps. Many questioned how the very people who create apps for an “open-source” platform can be locked out of Android’s premiere content. And what about the consumers who spent $400, twice as much as the average T-Mobile subscriber, to obtain a G1? Should they all to be left out in the cold?
Now that Cydia has announced plans to open an app store for jailbroken iPhones, I wonder if Android developers should form their own marketplace to reach the consumers shut out by Google’s restrictions on the Android Market. There are already third-party sellers of Android apps in OnlyAndroid and Handango; however, neither site has nearly the amount of apps available in the Android Market, and the slim pickings are also more expensive.
Developers could benefit by creating a central website or service that could offer the same guarantees and relative ease of use as the Android Market. A strong selection of paid apps and a simple tutorial on how to install an “.apk” might make the service a viable alternative for dev phone owners hungry for paid apps.
Of course, there are potential drawbacks in terms of security. Google likely blocked unlocked dev phones from paid apps because of piracy concerns, so some developers may fear that participating in this new service could lead to torrents and shady websites posting their content. Factor in legal, bandwidth, marketing, and other operational costs, creating a dev-phone-targeted app store could pose several challenges.
Still, an “Android App Flea Market” could help repair some of the damage done by Google’s Market policies. Plenty of Android’s early adopters and biggest cheerleaders were preemptively punished for a crime yet to be committed. They invested in expensive hardware, only to discover that it is technically inferior to a cheaper alternative. In a strange twist, dev phone owners have no choice but to pirate certain paid apps they want because they cannot obtain them legally. It’s an ethical, legal, financial, and technological problem that Google has chosen not to immediately address.
Cydia’s success could serve as a model solution for dealing with this problem. If successful, it would be a proven example of how to bring paid apps to unlocked developer phones and compensate creators fairly. Connecting a seller and his product with customers is what a market is supposed to do after all.