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Sun, 29 Jul 2012 00:00:00 -0700

Recently several smartphone app developers have been widely published
complaining that Android is a "piracy platform" and they make less
profits on Android. The former is blatant doublespeak (conflating
freedom with Piracy) and while it is certainly much harder to make
money on Android it is not due to piracy - it is because of the huge
collection of free apps, which flourish due to the freedoms that
Android developers enjoy.

By "Piracy Platform" what they really mean is that you can install any
app from any source on an Android device. This is not a deficiency of
the platform, it is a feature - Android users have control of their
own device and are not limited to the Official Store. This feature
gives users the freedom to do what they want with their device.

Developers can still confirm a user has paid for an app by using the
Application Licencing Service
This can also limit an app to running for a particular time limit or
on a specific device. While this is enabled by default in the 4.1
version of Android, it still works on devices running the ancient 1.5
version - if the developer bothers to use it. From what I have been
able to discover, the most vocal piracy complainants are not using the
licencing service for their apps.

With an Iphone/Ipad users are limited to only the apps which Apple
allows them to use, and they can delete apps - even ones you have paid
for - from your device at any time. (Would you limit grocery shopping
to a single supermarket, or let a single publisher decide what books
you can read?  When they stop publishing a book, would you let them
enter their house and take it off your bookshelf? But we should return
to the issue at hand: piracy.)

The freedom to install unofficial apps on Android does make it
slightly easier to pirate apps. The user doesn't have to jailbreak
their device, although someone still has to crack and remove the DRM
on the Application Licencing (if the developers used it). This still
doesn't prevent good apps from being profitable.

The obvious analogy here is Microsoft Windows or DOS: it is even
easier to install software from any source, copy protection is
somewhat effective but often cracked by Warez groups and piracy is
rampant, yet many developers have made millions writing games and
other software for Windows.

The real challenge on Android is not piracy, but free programs that
fulfil the same function. If you make a good game, worth shelling out
$5 for, some people will pirate it but many will pay for it. But few
people will pay $5 for a unzip program, music player, simple puzzle
game or a moderately-useful-but-trivial-to write widget when there are
completely free programs which they can use instead.

This is why it is hard to make money on Android or Linux development -
to make it worth buying your software has to do something very useful
to the user. Something that the user can't get from free alternatives.
This requires significant work because there are many high quality
free alternatives on these platforms.

Battery Widget Pro will not sell for $1 because there are dozens of
free battery widgets. Neither will a flashlight app or a simple
solitaire game. Something rare and useful, like a good Word Processor
app or music composition software, and droid users will happily pay
for it because there are no free alternatives. But if it only takes a
little effort to write, another developer will make a free version.

Why are there so many free apps on Android? Because developers have
more freedoms and lower costs, so there are more Android developers
willing to make free apps. It costs nothing to get the Android SDK,
and you can run it on nearly any computer and operating system made
this century. You can use common general purpose programming languages
like Java, C, C++, Python and Javascript.

It costs nothing to publish an Android app, you can do it on your own
website. Many developers for Android and Linux write software for
their own use, and because it costs them nothing to publish, they make
it available for anyone to use for free.

On the other hand, there are no truly free apps on Iphone/Ipad. The
developer is paying at minimum $99 each year for their developer
licence, and (unless they already have one) $1200 or more for an Apple
brand computer which is the only type which can be used to develop for

Once the developer has spent over a thousand dollars to get set up and
ongoing costs every year they will want a return on that investment.
Thus there are fewer free apps. The ones which cost nothing to install
usually make money for the developer in some other way, via
advertisements, in-app purchases, encouraging people to buy from a
related store or service (e.g. Coles and Woolworths shopping cart
apps) or by siphoning contact data and other useful information for
marketing and advertising purposes. Security researchers have found
nearly half of Iphone apps send personal information such as location
and address books to the developers or their marketing partners.

Of course, the lower barrier to entry on Android also means there are
many low quality apps around. But due to a simple user-driven rating
and review system the chaff is easily filtered away.

Finally, just take a look at who is making money on Android, and what
they are providing to their users. Documents To Go and Quickoffice are
in demand and very profitable. Angry Birds, of course. The original
Final Fantasy III can be played in a free emulator but over 50,000
users spent $17 on the official app version. The brothers who
developed the Star Trader and Cyber Knights RPGS provide a free
version of their games but make a profit on the "Elite" version.

   -- Dylan Leigh

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