Android Market and the Developer Problem

2009/10/18

Android market has a lot of serious problems (that were not fixed in donut), but I want to focus on just one here: the lack of connection between the developer and application users.

Users can interact with the developer in 3 ways: by rating the app, by leaving comments, and by emailing them directly. The comment / rating system is completely anonymous, there is no way for the developer to interact with users that leave comments and feedback.

Why is it important for a developer to be able to interact with a user? Most Android apps are not published by large scale software producing companies. In most cases it’s one person, without a team of testers ensuring the application’s correctness across many different devices and several different Android OS releases. Developers rely on user feedback to find and fix problems with their apps. It is nice when users use the developer’s email to report problems, but more often than not the developer gets comments like “force closed, uninstalled” with no way to get any details from the user.

This problem can be fixed, with some rather harsh stipulations applied to market downloads. When a user downloads an app, they should implicitly agree to open a communication channel with the developer. Specifically, a “receipt” should be provided to the developer for every download (free or paid). This receipt should include details of the user … including their email, device info, date installed, date uninstalled, etc. If the user doesn’t like this, they can choose to not download the (free) application.

I suspect most people would object to this with privacy concerns, but to that I say too bad. Free software should never be truly free. Instead, “free” software just means you may compensate developers with non-monetary forms of payment, such as,

  1. Providing feedback on features, usability.
  2. Sending crash logs.
  3. Or even, fixing bugs directly.

If the user is truly leaching in that they aren’t willing to provide any of the above, it’s of no consequence to the app developer if they decide not to run the app. It’s a frustrating experience for developers to work hard on an app and publish it, for free, only to receive negative, or vague comments. A developer-friendly market stimulates more application development, which is benefits users in the long run.

This all goes for free apps. For paid, or ad-supported apps, I believe it is up to the developer to provide some level of correctness without user involvement.

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