A Theory On Why Only 13 Countries Have Access To Paid Apps In The Android Market

I recently shared on Google Reader, an item John Gruber had posted. He asked the question:

Is Google Discouraging Paid Android Apps?

The cynical view: Google prefers free Android apps over paid ones, because free apps try to make money through ads, and Google serves nearly all the in-app ads for Android apps.

Which, of course, I find ludicrous. But good friend Jonas Rabbe asked the more appropriate question: “why do YOU think that Google has not been able to roll out the full features of the market yet?”

For posterity, I’m going to store my answer here:

Let me start by saying that as an Android fan, the fact that I can’t yet buy apps without rooting my phone is an embarrassment.

So, why do I think its not yet possible? Its a real good question, and I have a few theories.

Since I have in fact rooted my phone, I have bought apps, and it works quite nicely. So the tech is there. Which leads me to believe that the lack of paid apps is either bogged by non tech issues, or intentional.

Non tech issues could be the rollout of Google Checkout, which is the only way to buy apps at the moment. Google Checkout, incidentally, is not in Denmark yet, and I presume not in a number of those other countries either. Perhaps Checkout is complex, perhaps its slowed by legal issues. Nonetheless, there may be a connection. Credence to this theory is lent by the recent rumor that PayPal is soon coming. Maybe in a desperate attempt to get paid apps everywhere.

The other theory I have is related to hardware and OS fragmentation, and the fact that there really aren’t many really great apps or games yet. I’m speculating that Google may be building the equivalent to DirectX for Android, a unified driver layer that’ll make it easier for developers to build good apps. Perhaps they’re postponing the worldwide rollout until good apps are possible.