The End of a Foodie Mobile Era

An era comes to end today. Post Google acquisition, Zagat is discontinuing their iPhone and iPad apps. This makes me feel nostalgic. 

In 2008 I inherited a 2 star iPhone app. It was Zagat for iPhone. 

I didn’t have the luxury of scrapping the app so I listened to customers, tried novel approaches and redid the app piece by piece. The app became the #1 selling travel app (most days) and a 4.5 star app for the next 2 and a half years. It was the first to integrate Foursquare and Foodspotting. It drove reviews written right as someone was dining. The iPad app was a launch app with a map-centric design later cloned by everyone else in the space (Yelp, OpenTable, etc). 

After I left, not much happened with the suite of apps. I’m sure it had a lot to do with the complexities of an acquisition; a lot of talented people were at Zagat and their development partners. I would get messages from users asking what was going on but I had no clue. There was one update that reversed a key part of the UX and negative reviews started coming in. And then no updates. I couldn’t even open the iPad app for months without it crashing. Zagat went free and the iOS apps curiously stayed in market at full price.   

This morning Zagat sent a push notification indicating the discontinuation of the apps. This is a meaningful event. The very thing that showed Google that Zagat was viable in a modern Post-PC world is no more. Did you really think Google bought them because they wanted to print restaurant books?

Google hints at new apps, which is a strange thing considering they opted to not transition a large audience of paid Zagat mobile loyalists. It’s also curious because they 1. have the Google+ Local app directly integrated with Zagat and 2. have direct integration of Zagat into Google Maps on Android and likely in the new iOS Google Maps. Do they need a third Zagat mobile source, competing with Google+ Local? 

Things have changed, that’s for sure. A different 4.5 star app fuels my days and I’m lucky and thrilled it has the attention of the likes of Pepsi and Wall Street. It’ll be nice to not get “what the heck happened to your old app” questions. I will miss picking “My friends have a trust fund” when getting recommendations on where to eat out when my buddies are buying.

So it’s ”Check, please" for apps that brought the earliest forms of actually mobile reviews, augmented reality, and tablet app design. Today, the app will give me a great place to get dinner… perhaps for the last time.

Project Glass Meets Reality

6 weeks ago Google introduced Project Glass with an amazing video demonstrating the product. Of course, it was a concept video and Google stated this is what it “might be” capable of doing. Many people overlooked that fact and took this to be a demonstration of the actual product, and so did more than a few publications.

Having worked on two early smartphone augmented reality apps, and having spent a significant amount of time recently working on image recognition and processing for Consmr’s barcode scanning iPhone app, I took to Quora to question the feasibility of a product like the video launching this year. In summary, I said there’s no way this product is launching this year with most of this functionality. I went feature by feature through the product and the interaction in the video and referenced why it wasn’t happening in 2012.

Today, we all found out just how close to the truth I was…  Project Glass in its current form can do little more than take and share a photograph. Engadget’s headline summed it up like this:

"Google’s Project Glass protoypes can transfer still images, do little else"

Don’t get me wrong. I am absolutely an advocate of this type of technology. I’ve always said that hardware is holding back the next evolution of augmented reality… the point where it positions itself for early growth in the mainstream. If I could clone myself, this is an area where I have tons of ideas/sketches/concepts that only a Project Glass type of hardware could execute. But I’m not sure what was gained by producing a video of something that was far from the reality of the actual product. 

It reminds me of a nerd debate I had with a classmate at Brown over the video Nintendo produced in 2000 as a teaser for the Gamecube Zelda. I said there was no way the Gamecube could produce a game looking like that. 12 years and several Zelda games later, Nintendo has still not launched a Zelda game near those visuals. 

Siri, Yelp and Calling The Next Thing in Mobile


I’ve made a habit of successfully predicting where things are going in the mobile world over the last few years.

6 months ago when Siri launched, I talked about the largely ignored Yelp integration with Siri. I predicted Yelp and Apple’s relationship would improve and they would further integrate into Siri and create tons of value for Yelp. Well, I was the only person not surprised at the lone new feature of Siri in iOS 5.1; deeper Yelp integration.

Here’s the official post from Yelp confirming the integration. And there’s tons of other coverage everywhere else because Yelp is publicly traded. 

Add this to my list of predictions in mobile that have paid off. Here are the others:

Android - I started working on an Android app at the end of 2008. I told everyone it was the next big OS, carriers would all eventually get on board as an alternative to iPhone, and BB would still matter but slowly die off. I even did an interview with Google at Google I/O in May of ‘09 (there was only 1 Android phone at that time) stating exactly why I thought Android was the next big platform. Now it IS the biggest platform.

Foursquare - One month after they launched I called Naveen (while he was still working out of a coffee shop) to say “let’s partner.” Pretty sure my next call with Dennis was in a coffee shop too. Fast forward to today… 20 million users, a $600 million valuation. On the other side - millions of dollars worth of partnership press, and 300,000 young/urban/social fans for a traditional brand (Zagat).

Augmented Reality - 6 months before Yelp’s “monocle”, I launched NRU — an augmented reality restaurant finder on Android. At PaidContent Mobile 2010 I called this a cool but gimmicky step 1 of AR, with step 2 being when we can bring AR to a lightweight wearable device with visual processing to compensate for GPS accuracy (Google AR Goggles anyone?). I still say even the Google AR glasses will be a little “too soon”. Maybe by version 3 or version 4 they’ll be in the right spot.  

Foodspotting - I reached out to them at launch and built their first brand partnership. I could see Alexa and Ted were doing this right. 2 million users later, 1 million food photos later, and a ton of floundering copycats… I expect these guys to be a serious acquisition target of a larger player in the local space within the next year. No large company could realistically generate and collect these photos themselves… you need a very unique type of userbase to do this. Their photos are a valuable asset for anyone serious about taking on local food. 

Flipboard - While some content providers panicked at launch, I helped curate and ensure content was feed smoothly when the app went public. 2010 App of the Year, 5 million users. And a traditional print brand gets front and center in the Food section of what would become the essential content consumption experience on tablets. 

Ad Supported Android (Angry Birds!) - A few years ago at Harvard Business School I said the launch of an ad supported Angry Birds was the future of Android. Meanwhile many people were shocked a top selling iPhone app was being given away for free. The CEO of Angry Birds (Rovio) was in the audience and thanked me. Are these guys the next Zynga?

iPad - Fine, this was a no brainer to some. But you had to “believe” if you were crazy enough to decide on your own to produce an app in the period between Steve Job’s announcement speech and launch app submission day (less than 60 days). That app went on to be #33 on the all-time top selling iPad apps list.

Android Tablets would be DOA - I said these were not going to work any time soon because the reasons why Android would (and did) work does not apply to Android tablets. There was a lot of hype as they were in development and I remember Eric Schmidt holding one at some event to try to hype it up. I refused to spend any time developing for Android tablets. Turns out it was the right call. 

Windows Phone Merger - At an Augmented Reality event in 2010, I said Microsoft will wait until after the holiday season, continue to see soft WP7 sales and either buy Nokia or RIM as their only way to force themselves into the market even though it still won’t work. I didn’t think it would happen 4 months later… I thought they might give it a second soft holiday season. Ultimately they all but purchased Nokia and killed what was the most widespread mobile OS in the world (Symbian, which I mourned since I owned a Psion PDA in middle school. The amazing multitasking OS that Psion ran would later be rebranded as Symbian). For the record, I said Nokia should just move to Android…

Two More Mobile Bets - I’m not saying what they are, but you should probably talk to me about Consmr if you are interested… 

Flipping For Dollars - Google’s New Reader

Yesterday Robert Scoble shared that Google was launching a “Flipboard killer.” Kara Swisher then followed up with more details about the app, named Propeller – not to be confused with the AOL social news site. Considering that Google recently closed a similar web-based project in FastFlip, it’s interesting to see them getting right back on the saddle. Ultimately, if Google News has proven to be a popular destination for them then I can see why they want to get news right on a platform that shines for content consumption. It remains to be seen if this is just a fancy Google Reader (not necessarily a bad thing) or a curated experience.

Flipboard recently released stats showing just how dominant they are in the nascent tablet news aggregation space. I’m a fan of Flipboard, and I got Zagat on board as a launch partner, so I’m somewhat biased. But I see two very different style of tablet apps in this space; the curated experience and the organized RSS reader. I’m not sure which Google will pick to emulate. I hope they pick one and don’t go for a hybrid that does neither well.

I use Flipboard as a serendipitous news app. It’s a leisure app for me that I can use while sitting on the couch. In many ways it’s similar to a magazine because it is curated. Unless you’re managing one of Flipboard’s “channels,” you don’t realize it’s actually powered by a curated Twitter list. You’ll read some comparisons that News.me is curated and Flipboard is not. That’s not the case. With Flipboard you get a better content mix than just a pretty RSS feed.

On the other hand, there’s Pulse. Pulse is the other news aggregator tablet app that I use regularly. The difference here is that Pulse is all about RSS feeds. You populate it with your individual RSS feeds and swipe through to read all of the stories from that one particular site or source. When I’m looking to catch up on specific data and read every headline, particularly in social media and technology, I use Pulse. It doesn’t have the animated style of Flipboard, but it provides just a little more than your average reader to make feeds look organized but appealing.

So what will Propeller be? Will it be a Flipboard style curated magazine app? Or will it be a Pulse style organized version of Google reader?  If it’s like Pulse, then I don’t think it’s a Flipboard killer at all. If people use Flipboard the way I use Flipboard, then I don’t see it taking significant share away from them. If it is ultimately a curated experience, then maybe there’s a real challenger to Flipboard after all.

Analysis of the Deal - Zagat’s Tiger Uppercut


Today’s big news was about Google’s acquisition of Zagat.  A ton of people have asked me to comment because of my former affiliation. A few nice folks think my efforts directly contributed to the acquisition (Wired’s article has some highlights under 21st-century). I appreciate the sentiment. Everything I say here is based on my own personal analysis. It’s really about Google and the restaurant space. I have no knowledge of the deal.

If you want back-story, take a look at Gary Vaynerchuk’s “Thank You Economy” (note: Gary became a partner of my company Consmr well after this was published). In the first chapter he details the evolution of Zagat. He even talks about how Zagat was able to “punch back” against the Yelps of the world thanks largely to the partnerships (Foursquare, Foodspotting) and products (iPhone, iPad, augmented reality) I spearheaded. It’s a good read and I encourage everyone interested in this story to look at his analysis to better understand how we got to today’s acquisition.

It turns out that the Google/Yelp deal falling through allowed two things happen; a brand Yelp was challenging in the restaurant space got a payday, and their rival just added the type of credibility that takes decades to acquire. Don’t cry for Yelp though; their impending IPO is sure to make a lot of folks in San Francisco very happy.

This was all about credibility. I can’t see Google going into the print guide business or the sale of corporate guides. Their efforts with print advertising did not yield the results they wanted. I don’t have to share any stats about the print world. Just look at the closing of Borders. Imagine if The Daily started a print version?

It’s also not about acquiring content either. Google Hotpot yielded 3 million ratings in a matter of months (1/5 of Yelp’s total at the time). If anything, it’s more about how to filter that content moving forward. Why would you choose one review provider over another? Credibility. Imagine if you could have Zagat poring over Google reviews from every city in the US? If you pair the Zagat brand with the strides being made by Google in local, then you add a layer of credibility that Google couldn’t hope to produce on their own. The Google Places window decal instantly acquires meaning. And when Google needs to pitch small businesses on signing up for their products or selling some product in, they’ll have new-found credibility on that front too.

I believe that through Google Maps and Places, eventually Google’s local content would become the standard on Android devices. With Motorola they could ship devices with their Places solution embedded everywhere. Their mobile web enhancements were just the toe in the water. And with Zagat they’ve shown how serious they are about local.

Yes, People Are Searching For Gum

"Shoppers will go through the online research process for gum. It’s a process they’ve learned from researching the $40,000 SUV."
– Jim Lecinski, Google’s Managing Director of US Sales & Service

The online habits of consumers have changed in the last few years. The same methodologies that consumers are using to research a TV or even a car are the same methods that users are employing at an increasing rate for everyday products like grocery items. You can see how conscious people are with review research over small decisions like a 99 cent iPhone app or even a free app (!!!). I saw the power of reviews when I managed a 10 dollar app I used to run.

Sources like the Wall Street Journal and agencies like G2 are publishing supporting stats. But one of the most compelling studies about this movement was just published by Google in their June 2011 book Winning The Zero Moment of Truth or ZMOT

There are numerous compelling quotes and stats from Google in ZMOT but I’ll take a select few:

CPG is not too small
 

"No MOT (Moment of Truth) is too small. If consumers will do research online for houses and health care, they’ll also do it for Band-Aids and ballpoint pens."

Shoppers are researching grocery products online in high numbers

What would you guess the percentage of users researching CPG products online in 2011? Your guess is probably wrong! Here’s what Google had to say in ZMOT:

Percentage of shoppers influenced by digital source prior to purchase (ZMOT)

Grocery Products: 61%
Health/Beauty/Personal Care: 63%
Over-the-Counter Health: 78%

Those are astounding numbers. It’s safe to say from this that the majority of consumers are now researching grocery, health, beauty and personal care products online, whether before going to the store or once in the store. I’m impressed because those consumers have dealt with what I’ve dealt with; fragmented sources of information.

Number of sources used by the typical shopper

Grocery Products:  7.3
Health/Beauty/Personal Care: 7
Over-the-Counter Health: 9.8

Sounds pretty fragmented to me.

Making Smart Choices Fast

One of the prototypical Zero Moments referenced is not surprisingly a “minivan mom” (their words not mine). Her son is sick, so she uses her smartphone to research a decongestant.  She’s about to make the decision to buy it and where to buy it. What influences her? Seeing it has positive ratings and that her local store has a discount. It’s a slam dunk that the sale is going be made.

The Average Household spends $312 a month on groceries in 2010

That’s according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Simply put, the average family can’t afford to make the wrong decisions with groceries. Every so often someone will say something based on perception rather than fact like “Social is for high engagement products/services, not a $3.99 cereal,” I think two things. One, they haven’t bought a box of cereal in 10 years because I wish cereal was still $3.99. Two, they aren’t in the real world with the majority of the population who does have to consider that replacing a product means you have to spend over your budget. Here’s a pertinent example from ZMOT:

"I’ve got four boys and I’m at the grocery store five days a week and it’s just killing us. We’ve got college coming in a few years. I’ve got to start looking at how I’m spending my money."

Digital word of mouth

I often talk about the “new word of mouth” opportunity in the age of Twitter and Facebook. I now think this opportunity is better referred to as digital word of mouth. I love this quote from Wharton Professor Dave Reibstein:

"Digital word of mouth is one-to-millions. If you have a good experience, it’s shared and re-shared with millions. You post it and suddenly, it’s flying."


The Fear…

I talk to agencies and brands regularly and the savviest ones actually embrace the good and the bad reviews. That’s for a good reason. Bad reviews can actually legitimize and add authenticity to a conversation (just like nobody is perfect, no product is perfect). And if your product is good, it’s going to stand on its own. 


"Negative reviews increase conversion rates… because people know they’re shopping in a truthful environment."

-Brett Hurt, CEO Baazarvoice

How this affects women

In my experience I get two types of reactions that split down gender lines when I explain what our long term goal is for Consmr. Men say “I could definitely use that” and women says “that’s GREAT! I REALLY need that!” Why the discrepancy? I have theories around the different types of fast moving consumer goods we buy, but ZMOT points to the idea that the way in which women share online is very different than men.

"Women have deep, deep sharing habits: product reviews, articles they’re forwarding, conversations, discussion boards…"
 

Along those lines, the Chief Marketing Officer for General Mills (Mark Addicks) spoke about the research his team has done in grocery stores. They’ve watched moms go into the grocery store and “pull out their phone and start looking online.” What are they doing? Things like looking for recipes and comparison shopping for cheaper brands. 

The choice of a new generation 

Ultimately, the recurring theme and central emphasis in ZMOT is that research habits around consumer packaged goods are now significant. No one is saying that people are searching more for cars. That’s pretty much at the saturation point. It’s that a new category has emerged. And if there is anyone who knows people’s evolving search intents, it’s Google.



Try the gray stuff. It’s delicious! Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes!



 

Disable Gmail’s Also Include

I was hoping to figure out how to disable Gmail’s new “feature” called Also Include. Why? Because it just doesn’t work and it’s a distraction to me. If Google’s Instant Search was all about saving a few precious seconds, then this feature nullifies that time saving. 

Unfortunately, you’re out of luck if you want to get rid of it. I’ve found no way to turn off also include in gmail. Your only recourse is write to Google asking them to make also include optional.

Why the ire for Also Include? First, it’s a distraction. Every time I type someone’s name it pops up out of no where. Humans are hardwired to notice when little things appear out of no where (I believe it’s related to how we perceive movement at a distance). So I’m slowed down every time the also include shows up. It’s always useless. I know who I’m emailing. I didn’t forget anyone. 

My second problem? There are major logic flaws. For one, it derives a portion of the logic from the BCC field. Here’s the scenario. I’ll give everyone fake names.

I email Jack and Eric, and BCC Jill.
Jack and Eric have no idea that Jill was on the email.

That’s the whole point of BCC. 

When I email Jill, Gmail’s Also Include is telling me to add Jack and Eric.

Um, no. They’ve never knowingly been on a thread. 

Here’s another flaw. Let’s say your best friend “Susie” dated “Mike” up until a year ago, when they broke up. Now whenever I email Susie, it wants to email Mike. I haven’t emailed Mike in a year. Even deleting every single email that contained Susie AND Mike together doesn’t stop Mike from showing up as a suggestion on every email to Susie.

Gmail has some great features, including the “undo” and the forgot attachment reminder (which I’ve never seen, but have heard about). Also include, unfortunately, needs some major fine-tuning.

Google Mobile Payments vs Apple Mobile Payments

Last week, I made this comment in response to my previous post about mobile NFC payments on the Nexus S:


Ultimately, Google will want to handle the mobile payments themselves. How do they do that? Do they use Google Checkout? Stores would need to accept that as a payment method through an NFC station… and even then it’s just routing back through the same big credit card companies. That doesn’t help them. Do they partner and lose the full value? Do the partners even want Google in the mix? What is Apple doing? What are the banks doing? This is a much more complex issue than it might seem at face value.

I suggested that Google would not use Google Checkout or their own payment system since they don’t have the infrastructure of the existing big credit card companies and that their only option is to evaluate a partnership and lose full value. Today, the Wall Street Journal announced Google is doing exactly that.

“Google is teaming up with MasterCard and Citigroup to… allow consumers to make purchases by waving their smartphones.” “Google isn’t expected to get a cut of the transaction fees.” -WSJ


By Google not getting a cut of the transaction fees, that’s the loss of “full value” that I mentioned. Google is forgoing a lucrative cut of transactions in exchange for utilizing the existing credit card and banking infrastructure. This is consistent with Google being true to their advertising roots. Just like Android, they waived fees on the platform so that they could reap the mobile advertising benefits. The claim in the article is that Google will have your purchase information and can sell advertising and supply promotional discounts based on that data. I will get into the privacy issues associated with that another day. The key point is that they opted for the path of least resistance and one that is very much in tune with the company.

I believe Apple will take the opposite approach. With iTunes, they already have a tremendous financial network and industry clout. I believe that Apple will in fact take a cut of the transaction fees as they essentially have the largest hub of credit cards (200 million) online and run transactions into the billions of dollars. Google doesn’t have this kind of leverage with the banks and issuers.

When Apple announces their NFC payment system, I see one of two things happening. Either they go strictly for the cut and forgo the advertising component (which is not their forte anyway), or they double dip. I strongly think it’s the former and they just take a cut.

Why just the cut and not build the advertising component? Just like Google’s modus operandi is advertising, this approach is in line with Apple. It’s the App Store model and their new subscriptions model where they take a 30% cut. So far the jury is still out on iAds, so why jump head first into a nascent advertising space that is likely to have privacy concerns and require a sales force or sales infrastructure that they would need to build?

Let’s examine the double dip scenario. I’m not sure Apple would build the advertising component on their own. Similar to their iAd acquisition with Quattro, I believe they’d acquire a company that has already built an ad system around NFC payments. I’m not sure one exists, but if it did it would be in Japan built around the FeliCa RFID payment system. Still, this double dip is highly unlikely more so because of the privacy issues. Apple does not want to be embroiled in what will likely be a controversial form of advertising. There’s little chance of a perfect ad partner in the NFC space as of today. If the double dip scenario happens, it will be in the future after Apple has watched the successes and failures of Google in the space and then tries to build a better mousetrap.

Ultimately Apple and Google will go their own way with mobile payments and while at it stay true to themselves.

Netflix on Android & iPhone: Is Windows Phone 7 your only hope?

The mobile industry moves so fast that today’s plan is tomorrow’s trash. What’s also apparent is that each mobile platform’s approach is both providing and constraining user choice at the same time.

Thanks to recent developments, if you’re a Netflix user and you own a smartphone you may be out of luck. What’s affecting iPhone and Android Netflix users? Two recent announcements about subscription billing and mobile processor exclusivity.

Android Users: You’ve been wondering where in the world is your Netflix for Android. It’s on iPhone. It’s on Windows Phone 7 even. But millions of US Android users are forced to wait with no announced date in sight. Well, you could be waiting forever. Qualcomm and Netflix announced at this week’s Mobile World Congress that Netflix will arrive on Android for new phones that ship with Qualcomm’s second generation Snapdragon chip.

If you own any existing Android phone, you’re out of luck. No Netflix for you. Don’t feel too bad though. If someone goes to a store today and buys a top of the line Android phone, they’ll have a shiny new phone that can’t watch Netflix either. 

Unlike the comment in the CNET article, I don’t believe the average Android user will need to know what chip is in their phone. I believe from an Android Market level the app will not show up for users on certain devices.

So Android users, give up hope for Netflix anytime soon. Even if Netflix later decided to release an alternative app that doesn’t use the Snapdragon 2 chipset, Qualcomm most certainly has at least a 6 month exclusivity window on the Netflix app. Remember how Skype was exclusively on the Verizon Android phones for 6 months? 

Android owners, misery loves company. You may yet be joined by your iPhone carrying friends. Apple’s announcement regarding subscription apps could easily impact Netflix as well. Besides a requirement of adding Apple’s new in-app subscription service, there’s additionally a requirement that pricing must be the same across all platforms. There’s speculation that Netflix and others would be forced to potentially remove their apps from the iOS ecosystem because of the limited margins that the all-you-can-eat media apps have like Rhapsody and Netflix.

Netflix could be faced with two options; raise prices, which would have to be across ALL Netflix platforms, or remove their iOS app and send everyone to a web app on those platforms (that is a very much viable option and the Netflix iPad app is essentially a skin for their website anyway). I doubt they would raise prices, and without special exemption, they will face a tough choice.

So it’s possible that every current iPhone and Android user could be out of luck when it comes to a native Netflix app on their smartphones. Right now there’s only one smartphone platform with neither a chip issue nor a revenue-sharing issue involving Netflix…  Windows Phone 7. WP7 has a native Netflix app and has none of the potential Netflix issues. Of course this could change, as I started things out by saying how quickly mobile moves. But it is funny how this worked out for Microsoft.

Android Market Changes: Everything But What We Needed

As someone who started in December of ‘08 working on an Android app, before there was even a paid app store, clearly I saw the reasons why Android would be successful. It still amazes me though how little has changed with the Android Market since then. 

The recent changes to the Android market still miss many of the basic issues and concerns that continue to make the iPhone “the” platform for premium (paid) app developers. I’m not going to applaud changes like making the app description longer than a measely 350 characters when that could have been changed almost 2 years ago. It’s still welcome, but it’s not nearly enough.

Today’s big news is the addition of carrier billing from AT&T to the Android Market. It seems like progress but it has little hope of moving the needle. AT&T is the one carrier whose carrier billing doesn’t matter for Android. AT&T has always had the smallest market share on Android and the most limited Android device selection. And with the iPhone, who is really buying Android on AT&T? I once spent two days convincing a friend that for her specific needs, she should get the Galaxy S class AT&T device (the Captivate). She agreed. Three days later I found out she walked into the store, saw the iPhone 4 and left with it only minutes later.

Despite Android sales surpassing iPhone sales, cross-platform developers know that paid Android app sales are a fraction of paid iPhone app sales. There are a myriad of reasons and theories behind this (Apple has had your credit card for years with iTunes, their marketplace is organized sensibly and has a desktop browser, the aggregate audience is still much larger on iOS, the Android audience makeup is different, etc). I still believe one major issue is trying to peck out a credit card number and your home address into a phone. You really have to “want” that first paid app if you’re going to buy it on Android. If you can discover it.

To me, AT&T carrier billing isn’t big news. Big news would be universal carrier billing from Verizon. That would mean the huge Android install base from Verizon would have access to seamless purchases on the Android Market. Realistically, that will never happen… at least not in the Android Market. Verizon has their own VCast app store with carrier billing and would be unlikely to add that to the generic Android Market. The best hope there would be for Verizon to retroactively update their old devices to include the VCast App Store. Actually, if that happens then that’s a great growth prospect for premium app developers already invested in the Android platform. Anyone remember why ringtones were so successful?

Another remaining concern is the byzantine sorting system Google uses for the Android market. Most people don’t realize that it is not a top sales/download list. See my previous post on the Black Box algorithm that Google uses. How did Windows Phone 7 get the sorting right and Android in 2 years still can’t? At a minimum, provide manual sorting options like “Most popular” or “Top Rated.” Give users some way to see a true sort of applications. If you look at the top paid apps, in certain categories it just makes no sense whatsoever.

My guess as to the holdup? I believe Google doesn’t want to show the drastic before and after picture when there’s a shakeup in the Android Market rankings. My advice to Google is to hurry up and rip off the band-aid. When you explain you’ve moved to default sorting based on actual sales and downloads, no one will complain because it’s a fair, transparent system. The Google run Android Market has a real chance of being replaced altogether by carrier specific stores or alternative markets. Now even Amazon is getting into the picture. I say good luck to them, but I also know that I’ve argued since last year that Google should have partnered with Amazon for payments from the very beginning. Besides iTunes, what other “account” tied to billing is everyone guaranteed to have? Amazon. 

Until these issues are resolved I will continue to advocate that premium app developers stay or start with iOS unless they’re a smash-hit game and can monetize through advertising (see Angry Birds). If you want to develop a free app, well that’s an entirely separate blog post…