Over the last few months, there’s been quite a bit of buzz (and some unease) building around a new kind of fragmentation that’s coming to Google’s Android OS. Up until now, the primary way people have downloaded third party applications has been through the official Android Market, an online app marketplace run by Google that’s analogous to Apple’s App Store. But things are going to get more complicated very soon.
Verizon, which has been Google’s biggest ally in helping Android get massive distribution, is launching its own app store. Amazon is planning to launch one as well, and there are doubtless more to come. And while these new App Stores seem like they could confuse users, Google CEO Eric Schmidt has made the company’s stance very clear: he says that multiple Android app markets are a “net win for everybody”.
The issue came up during Google’s earnings conference call, when an analyst asked what Google thought about these new app markets that are popping up. Here’s Schmidt’s answer (we were transcribing from a live call so it is a bit paraphrased):
The goal of the stores is to make money for people writing the applications, not a revenue goal for Google. There will certainly be multiple stores – including a key one from us. It’s a net win for everybody.
This jives with Google’s messaging around other Android issues: competition is good, and the market will decide what works and what doesn’t. In the long run, I think they’re right, but in the short term this could spell frustration: what happens when an app store demands exclusivity from a developer? And how will a user react when they can’t use the same payment mechanism from store to store, or the pricing and availability differs? Consumers may be used to having to shop around in the real world, but this is a totally different paradigm from what’s been established on smart phones for the last two years.