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Lack of paid apps in Android Market contributes to app piracy [OPINION]

August 3, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka

Android OS


Google recently announced a new licensing system to combat app piracy. Developers are pleased to see stronger protection of their creation, but if Google really wants to fight theft, it should expand paid app support to more countries.

Global Android users have been banging this drum, but the noise has fallen on deaf ears. After nearly two years of existence, the Android Market still supports paid apps in only 14 countries. Anyone not in one of those 14 nations is forced to sit on the sideline and wait for a day that isn’t promised this calendar year or the next.

Or they can do the unthinkable and steal.

Make no mistake about it: hordes of people using illegal copies of Android apps would still do so if they could purchase apps. However, I’d wager that there’s a large portion of consumers who would gladly pay for the privilege. The lack of support forces many to travel down the shady path.

Take a look at this chart developed by Hexage, developer of popular apps like Buka and Radiant. The retro shooter game Radiant has about 50,000 users, but thousands of those users run illegal copies of the app.

You’ll notice that places with the highest piracy rates are in regions where only a handful of nations have turned on the paid app switch. Hexage reports that

  • 70 percent of Radiant players in Europe, where only 8 of 49 nations have paid app support, use a pirated copy.
  • Asia, which has a whopping 97 percent, has only Japan and South Korea among its rank of paid users.
  • South America, which doesn’t have any nation eligible for paid apps, also has a 97 percentage rate of illegal copies.

Note: Legal copies in countries without paid apps come from Market alternative SlideMe.

North America (Canada and the U.S.) comparatively reports 43 percent illegal users. That’s considerably lower than other regions, and I strongly believe that the U.S. getting paid apps early contributed to that lower rating. Would Oceania’s 91 percent be lower had paid apps arrived in Australia and New Zealand sooner?

Moralists will say that theft is wrong and there are alternative markets for buying apps, but those solutions are less attractive and publicized than the built-in Market. The reality is that not every desirable app is in these markets, and constantly sideloading updates to apps is a headache for developers and consumers.

Adding paid support to more countries will not spell the end of app piracy. However, it could stem the tide of people turning to black markets out of frustration and necessity. Google continues to say that there are several external factors that prevent it from adding paid apps to more countries, but those obstacles need to be addressed. Licensing may set up roadblocks for now, but history has shown that dedicated people will eventually find their way around software limitation. It’s best to make the need to pirate apps a non-issue.

Hexage informed us that the anonymous usage data has been collected over a period of 10 months using Flurry Analytics and Google Checkout API. Piracy rate represents the ratio of unlicensed copies to the total number of installed copies. For example, piracy rate of 90% means that nine out of ten users obtained the app illegally.