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Don't make your Android app free for 1 day (groups.google.com)
287 points by dminor on Sept 8, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 83 comments

I had this exact problem. This is one of the reason I have found the Android app market horrible when compare with the iPhone market. This rule is so arbitrary and non-intuitive.

I actually made my app free for testing purposes and had to create an entirely different app once I made it free.

In my experience with the Android app store, Google has no idea what they are doing.

Edit: Independent of this weird issue, I say this mostly because we sold literally 20x less of the exact same app on the Android market vs. the iPhone market (the apps were marketed the exact same way). This is in spite of the fact that the Android phone sales are apparently equal the number of iPhones phone sales...

Another one of my biggest gripes, while people are listening, is that you can not get a URL for your app for the Android store (or at least I don't know how). How are you suppose to sell anything on the web without a web address. We have a link to our iPhone app and for then Android app we need to give people a search term to enter into the Android app store! This is crazy to me!

Finally, and this is the last thing I promise, when you submit and app to the Android store you use a keystone to sign it. Well, I ended up losing my keystone (cause I'm an idiot), so I could never push an update of my app. So, I ended up needing to go through and literally refund 100 people's purchases (by hand) and create an entirely different app. This was actually the same app that I made free, so I literally have 3 versions of this app submitted to the Android App Store (but two are no longer public).

On the positive side, although google has no customer service or email for feedback, there's a chance that someone from google will see this comment here, and do something about it. A chance is better than nothing.

In this context, Steve Jobs personally responding to emails (apparently) is amazing positioning. Even if only to say "we disagree", it's a factor of infinity better than google.

I like Google, but they seriously need to put more effort into customer service. I used Google Checkout after it first launched. When you had a problem the only customer service option was Google Groups. There were basic problems, like the inability to view more than one page of transaction history, that went unfixed for months. After that experience, I decided I wouldn't rely on them for core business functions beyond AdWords.

If I've said it once, I've said it 1000 times: Google does everything 75%. They break into a market just to be in it and then they set it aside and move on. Nothing is ever finished and polished with Google aside from search, the one thing they really nail. If Google treated each of its products--or even each of its core products--the same way that Apple treats its few products, Google would run the world.

It's a Les Grossman "scorched earth MFer" policy. They build super-sexy beta products or buy hot startups (Wave, Nexus One, Android Marketplace, Dodgeball) and lure in devs and consumers, then get bored like a cat playing with a half-dead mouse and move onto the next shiny competitor up the block.

Meanwhile, no one wants to go into the space that they take up for fear of getting gently and graciously crushed in marketshare, and no one wants that market after they've left it, for fear that "if Google can't make money on it, we can't either". For example, if it wasn't for FourSquare, location-based social SMS would've been dead after Dodgeball; no VC would've touched it after Google bought it and failed.

Yeah, several years ago I go stuck trying to integrate a Google Search Appliance that a client went off and purchased on their own. The documentation was a joke and the code samples were sparse. The only support you got was a Google Group. Pretty sad considering it cost 20k.

It sounds like they already know about it, you know from all the times it has happened already. Unless HN is hugely influential I don't see how this will change their behaviour.

This is in spite of the fact that the Android phone sales are apparently equal the number of iPhones phone sales.

From what I understand, Android sales are currently similar to iPhone sales (in the US) in terms of phones being sold today, but there are a lot more iPhones already out there than Android phones (because the iPhone has been selling for longer I guess). Which means at the moment there are fewer people to buy Android apps. This also varies considerably from country to country -- for example, apparently Android sales are tiny in Australia compared to the iPhone.

There are also a lot of iPod touches out there.

That's an important point. Android is a complete non-starter in the non-phone MP3 device market, and the Android tablets are just starting out and have little market penetration. When comparing all iOS devices to all Android devices, instead of just phones to phones, iOS numbers definitely get a big boost.

My son has a iPod touch 8G, and I have an iPhone 3G (also 8G). The iPod touch is by far the more performant of the two - it's almost like a different device. I don't know what goes on in the guts of my iPhone, but I find it surprising on how much computing power it takes to run the cell-phone side of things.

Yep... the most recent (private) data I've seen suggests something in the range of 3x iPhone advantage. That same companies paid products also sold roughly half as many units on Android compared to their top-25 iPhone product.

Also, the android Market is available in far fewer countries, and sometimes apps don't show up in different regions even when they have a Market there.

This is not considering the potential difference in disposable income between purchasers of £45/month iphones and £15-20/month androids

Out of all of those problems, I'd say the fact that you can't get a web address to point people to your apps is the worst. I almost don't believe this is true, except that I still can't seem to find a web address.

Also, if you lose your Apple developer certificate, you can at least download a new one.

Indeed. For all the fucking geniuses at Google they sure do phone it in a lot. I don't often agree with MG Seigler, but he's right that Android is succeeding in spite of Google.

Christ, Google, an entire ecosystem of web sites exist that serve solely to provide a web interface and searching for your own marketplace. Bizarre.

The market url to your app is market://details?id=com.your.packagename

But that only works on a phone...

So link to one of the many android market web frontends out there, like androlib.com or my personal favorite, appbrain.com, which even has an app to allow users to install your app "from the web".

Out of curiosity, what is the chance that these front-ends will survive and thrive? It would be a pain to have to deal with a rotating series of front-ends when all you really want is a simple link directly to your app. Sometimes having and ecosystem spring up is really a sign of a broken system.

If you want a "simple link directly to your app", then use the market:// schema so that users clicking from their phone can go directly to the market page to buy it. For users on a desktop computer, show them a QR code with the market:// link so they can grab it from their phone. I'm not sure how much simpler it could get?

This does not sound simple. There should be a standard Market HTTP url which brings one to a page autopopulated with the details and the QR code of the app.

Anything extra step for my potential customer to get what they want is a potential lost sale.

where you actually install the app...

I've clicked on links in my phone's browser to download a marketplace package. Use the the "market" scheme followed by a search by package name to construct a URI clickable inside an Android phone. For instance: market://search?q=pname:<package>. This is documented at http://developer.android.com/guide/publishing/publishing.htm...

I say this mostly because we sold literally 20x less of the exact same app on the Android market vs. the iPhone market (the apps were marketed the exact same way). This is in spite of the fact that the Android phone sales are apparently equal the number of iPhones phone sales...

iPhone users buy more apps.

Or you can do a QR code which will link directly to the app when scanned.

Or you can make the link as a market intent so that android users who click on it, it will automatically launch the market app with the application in place.

Or wait till google release the web version of the android market rumored to be out this fall.

Remember that it's currently not possible to actually buy apps a lot of places in the world.

Android has a pretty high market share here in Norway, but we can only use free apps. I have no idea what's taking Google so long. Anyone know the percentage of Android phones that can actually buy apps?

Even if the sales of Android and iPhones are the same, it doesn't imply that spending on apps will be. If the phones are being bought by different demographics then they almost certainly won't spend money on apps in the same way.

This is one of the reason I have found the Android app market horrible when compare with the iPhone market.


This rule is so arbitrary and non-intuitive.

right, because apple's never been known for arbitrary and non-intuitive rules when it comes to their appstore...

I don't know that they have. Rejected apps are a very small minority and so far my reaction to every rejection I've heard about was "why did they think this would get approved?".

You have very selective hearing.

No, really. The amount of apps that get rejected is minuscule compared to the ones that are accepted. It's just that the rejections are trumpeted so loudly. The only one I heard that was iffy was google voice, but I can understand AT&T not wanting that one allowed.

I'm screwed. I've just done exactly that. There seriously should be a warning in the Dev Console when marking an app free.

I'm moving to IPhone development.

Edit: Here's how I got screwed. I put my app up as paid app for beta testing at first because testing the Google License Server required the app to be published as a paid app (that's another insensible thing). Within a hour someone made a purchase. I felt uncomfortable charging an app still under testing so I emailed the guy to ask him to revert the transaction within 24 hours. He said it's ok since he liked the app anyway. Then another guy emailed me asking why charging a beta app, which was a reasonable question since people can't download paid app without credit card info. I made my app free for beta testing, thinking that would make it easier for people to test.

Now, it looks like the app has to be withdrawn and republished as a new paid app. I feel bad for the guy who has paid for the app already. This really screws the developers and the customers.

So eventually you publish the final app as a new package and update the beta with a nag screen that points to the new package. Or am I missing something?

Customers who have paid for the beta app will get a crippled app, whether the beta becomes a nag-ware or a lite version.

In iTunes it's a regular strategy to give an app away for free for a week or two to promote a special, a launch, or otherwise, and then see residual sales come in when you flip back to paid - particuarlly on social games etc.

Don't understand this policy in android.

Apples and Oranges

Apple/itunes doesn't show the download count for apps. So switching an app from free to paid wouldn't cause any confusion. App-store rankings are based on downloads from the past three days. However, these rankings (and the last-3-days-counters) are reset when the app is changed from free to paid. The total number of downloads (since day 1 for the app) doesn't really matter.

My understanding is that Google wants to indicate the total download-count for apps. In this case, an app that changed from free to paid will have a misleading count. That is probably why Google doesn't let anyone change their free app to paid.

Now Google could obviously make things a bit more complex and use two separate counters (one for free and one for paid), but for now, it looks like they don't want to do that.

So I think I understand why developers can't change a free Android app to paid (and I also understand why some developers can find this annoying :). ---- Btw I didn't design the system and I'm not defending it. I just tried to explain why free Android apps can't be changed to paid.

That is a completely ridiculous reason to not let people give away apps. Just change the frickin' counter system.

Meant to up vote but downvoted. Boy does hn suck on apple devices.

Hostile to developer reasoning like this is why most devs I know stick to iPhone. Yeah, apple ain't perfect, but at least their reasons make some sense.

That sounds like a technical justification for a business problem.

Well they're all engineers right? Except for that guy that walks around spouting how he knows everything about everyone and you shouldn't do anything bad if you don't want it to get out. You know ... the CEO.

Whether or not there's any good reason to have this policy, the real problem is that it's utterly unclear when you're making an app free that you'll never be able to undo that without submitting an entirely new app.

If that's the policy, then when you choose to make an app free it should be in your freaking face, clear as day. "Warning: if you make this app free, you will never be able to make it a paid app unless you submit it as a new app" would do the trick just fine...

Look at the way it's currently explained:

"3.3 You may also choose to distribute Products for free. If the Product is free, you will not be charged a Transaction Fee. You may not collect future charges from users for copies of the Products that those users were initially allowed to download for free. This is not intended to prevent distribution of free trial versions of the Product with an "upsell" option to obtain the full version of the Product: Such free trials for Products are encouraged. However, if you want to collect fees after the free trial expires, you must collect all fees for the full version of the Product through the Payment Processor on the Market. In this Agreement, "free" means there are no charges or fees of any kind for use of the Product. All fees received by Developers for Products distributed via the Market must be processed by the Market's Payment Processor."

Maybe I'm just stupid, but when I read that, I certainly don't think that "once free, always free" is the message there.

App-store rankings are based on downloads from the past three days

If you go from free to paid (or vice versa), your ranking is reset. They're different charts.

It's a good guess, but I really don't think the download counts have anything to do with it.

IMO, Android is taking the right approach.

1) Developers will game the system. They give apps away for free to get good reviews and higher ratings. I am more generous on a free app than a paid app.

2) You are baiting users to get your app for free initially and then making them pay for the upgrades.

In the Apple app store, ratings given when an app is free do not carry over to a paid for app, so any extra ratings you get are ignored. Reviews are carried over.

There are a number of websites/apps with lots of users who look for free apps to try out, and rely on this method to try out some really good stuff.

I see nothing wrong with this, you are giving users something for free that is normally not, and a great way to get new people to try your app. A very valid and welcome marketing technique.

You can try out any paid Android Market app for 24 hours.

Not true. When you get the app for free on iTunes, you own it, even if they charge later. There's no distinction between if you got it for free or not.

Free apps generally get worse reviews. Also, once you've obtained the app by any means then all updates are free.

> I am more generous on a free app than a paid app.

Then you're the minority. Free applications are tried by more, price is a gate, and on Apple's AppStore free applications are consistently lower-rated than paid ones.

> You are baiting users to get your app for free initially and then making them pay for the upgrades.

You have no idea what you're talking about do you? I've yet to see a single paid upgrade, if that's even possible, apart from a "v1" to a "v2" which is paid for by everybody (including those who bought v1)

I wouldn't call that gaming the system. If I recall, there was a pretty unknown game by PikPok that was released as a paid app, they made it free for a day, then raised the app price back up after that day and it worked very well for them, they even made it to the top 25 paid apps and was number one free app the day it was free.

If this wasn't a good idea, or was considered gaming the system, I'm pretty sure the FAAD (http://freeappaday.com/) for iPhone wouldn't be as popular as it is right now. People love FAAD.

Baiting? Isn’t that a bit harsh? Is “try before you buy” morally repugnant now? (And don’t say free/paid dual releases are the “right way.” Having two separate apps has data migration issues, and inflates app availability total, benefitting the platform operator more than developers.)

"The try before you buy" strategy is baked directly into the 24 hours refund.

I just got an android yesterday, first negative experience within 20 minutes of opening the box, to play around with the turn-by-turn navigation you have to download an app which is free, but which requires you to set up a gmail account, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the task at hand.

Other than that amazing tech. The app download process was pretty painless after the google account was created.

I can see why the 'free to paid' switch would require a new application ID, after all people would feel tricked if they sent the name of the app to their friends on recommendation only to find that the one your friend downloaded for free is now suddenly a paid app.

Actually, Gmail (Google Apps accounts work too) account has quite a lot to do with the task at hand.

You will find out, when you will have a new phone and log in with the same account - the market will know which apps you bought or downloaded in the past and will set up them on your new phone.

Yes, but that does not hold true for a free app that just enables some functionality that was supposedly present in the phone when I bought it. You don't need a google email account for turn-by-turn navigation with voice instruction.

Once again:

1. Google Market requires account. You needed Market to download the updates to Google Maps.

2. Google Maps itself does not require google account. It will work with one, if available (for Lattitude), but for navigation, it is not required. If you have invalid credentials, for example, it will give you info "Login failed" and that's it.

Yes, I understand, that when it was downloading updates from Market as a first thing after turning on, it is not something pleasant. However, that's what users want, they want their system as updated as possible and Google obliged (see also flames here, on HN, how Google does not care and does not force the vendors to provide current Android releases. Removing apps from OS release cycle and updating them independently is a part of sidestepping the vendors/carriers).

Once again, you're missing the point entirely, you can repeat your non-explanation over and over again it does not change my perspective as a customer. If you include turn-by-turn navigation then voice is not 'optional', it is a safety measure. Especially for a device which unlike other navigators for vehicular use is not glued to your windshield which makes it even more dangerous to use without voice.

Sending and receiving internet mail have nothing to do with being able to use a navigational package, not matter what 'google market requires', if maps are free and the app is free then I don't need an account.

> Yes, I understand, that when it was downloading updates from Market as a first thing after turning on, it is not something pleasant.

It's simply wrong. I need an account of some sort at the moment that I download a paid product, not before then.

I know the market is set up in such a way that that is not the case, but it is my opinion, not a fact, as a customer that to require registration of an email account with an email provider which I do not intend to use in order to download basic functionality on to a device I have just bought from an unrelated provider is a process that is not 'unpleasant' but broken.

> However, that's what users want,

Not this one.

> as updated as possible and Google obliged

It could easily do that by just downloading a bunch of stuff from a repository a-la apt-get without requiring registration of anything whatsoever.

I really don't understand why your 'that's the way it works' view tramples my 'it doesn't have to work that way' view, I really couldn't care less how it works, even if it does work that way, it is a negative experience and you try to avoid those in people using your products.

So go get a 3rd party gps app if you don't like it; You're not forced to download the voice app. I've been using the Navigation app on my Nexus One for a year now without downloading it. It just beeps instead of talking, and I actually like it better that way, compared to my wife's phone where she did download the voices, and it's just some crappy synthesized lady who's hard to understand and talks waaayyy too much.

Actually, you did download it. Google Maps (includes Navigation, Lattitude, Places, etc) was updated several times since you bought your N1. It was updated using Google Market.

But I wasn't forced to download the voice instructions. That's included as a separate package, and although it bugs me every time I start navigation to download or skip, I'm always free to choose "Skip" and use the turn-by-turn navigation without the voice instructions.

It's a safety issue, not a luxury.

Imagine the Internet riot that would break out if this was an App Store policy? I don't think gaming the Market ranks is a good excuse here. Google is a search company. They know how to make a good search/rank. They should be able to figure this one out.

Yup, once it's free, it's free. Otherwise I think people would use this technique to skew their ratings and stats. Make it free till it's got 100k downloads, then put a price on it and people will think 100k people bought it.

I would LOVE just a few things in the Android Market:

1) To be able to give away a free license of a paid app to someone somehow. As a gift.

2) More than 325 characters to describe an app.

3) More than 2 screenshots.

Sure people will game it, but doesn't seem like a particularly difficult problem to solve. Introduce the concept of promotions, and don't count downloads during the promotion period.

> 1) To be able to give away a free license of a paid app to someone somehow. As a gift.

You... can't do that? Ever? Don't you get like 50 free licenses for each AppStore update?

Can you at least gift applications on the Market?

I know of no way at all to give away a free license to someone. Even partial refunds are said to uninstall the app from the users device - tho I have not tried this so I don't know if it's true.

Even partial refunds are said to uninstall the app from the users device - tho I have not tried this so I don't know if it's true.

I can't believe this. Customers would essentially be paying some percentage of the app cost and getting nothing in return if they obtained a partial refund. That's just wrong.

Another serious annoyance is that users can return your app in 24 hrs and get a full refund. Wipes out an entire ecosystem of cheap games that go for under $5. I understand that this is good for the consumer in a short-sighted way, but really, return a 99c app?

Today I looked, and if they buy the app a second time, they can't cancel a second time.

My biggest frustration is definitely the huge amount of "Payment Declined" orders that come through. Then I get emails a day or two later from someone ticked that their app never downloaded AND they think they were charged.

Google emails them that the app didn't download and they need to update their payment info in Google Checkout, but I think that most people just have Gmail accounts setup so their phone will work but they never actually check those gmail accounts where these non-payment notifications are sent. Then they're left wondering why their purchased apps don't download.

A simple email to both the gmail account AND the user's primary email address would at least help solve this problem.

EDIT: I'd like to add that in the few short hours I've been working this evening and following this thread here and there, I've received 4 payment declined orders for our apps. It's like watching money blow out the window.

I think the correct approach is to release an update that adds a link to buy the paid version, and disables the app after a trial period. It should have been done this way to begin with, usually there are two version in market (free and pro or something). Now that he screwed up, users can just refuse to update and keep it forever. Of course, they won't get updates.

Of course, the problem with that approach is that it punishes everyone who paid for the app before it was free.

Wow. Delete the app and create a new package? I'm assuming that will also kill updates for people that had the original package unless you deploy to both, which may be impossible if you want the free version gone.

The problem with doing this, which I have seen before on other app stores, is that making something free and then charging for it makes your app look much more valuable than it actually is.

For example, if you release a free iPhone application, and it gets downloaded a million times, with 50000 reviews, and then you make it cost $0.99, won't people think the app is some amazing app that millions of people have bought, so then you're more likely to buy it? There's no true indication that the app was free initially, so you don't really know.

True enough, but it's not rocket science to use separate counter/review tables for each mode. If the app is free, show the free download counter and reviews; and so on.

While we're requesting Android enhancements - how about we let the developer select the return policy. 24 hour return works great for utilities and day-to-day apps, but is really hurting the cheap game market.

I agree with this. Actually, I will agree with it once Google allows Canadians to actually submit paid apps. What a joke!

Just another tidbit that bolsters the (to me) obvious fact: Android Market totally sucks and there's a huge opportunity for startups here.

The 2-3 independent appstore websites also have ghastly designs.

Doubletwist's web interface to the Android Market seems well designed: http://www.doubletwist.com/apps/

Just make it one cent instead?

It's never about the price, rather the difficulty of acquisition. When it's free, user's don't have to do anything to get it; just click and download. If it's fraction of a cent, they need to have credit cards or google checkout. If you want people to try your software, good luck.

The lowest you can make an app in Android is 99c

Good to know but about the free thing but the rest of your issues aren't issues at all. The guides explain all this stuff. How did you ever get your app uploaded and approved for the apple app store if you can't follow simple instructions like the ones that explain how to publish your app to the android market?

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