February 3, 2011 | by Michael Heller
As much as I love that Google finally launched the Android Market Web Store, nothing, as they say, happens in a vacuum. The Market Web Store is a great start, and beautifully designed, but we can’t forget that there have been third-party sites which have done many of the same things and more already. Sites like AndroLib, AppBrain and AppAware have been listing apps and making discovery of Android apps easier for a long time. AppBrain even offered push installs from July 2010 until November, when Google shut it down, so they could show it off as an exclusive feature. These third-party sites have been at it longer than Google, and Google would be wise to take a few cues.
Google was smart to offer support for multiple devices in their Market Web Store, but their support is still very limited to an app by app basis. Imagine you could make lists to manage apps on multiple devices and run batch installs. Well, you can, with AppBrain. Google’s method right now is that you choose your device as you’re installing. With AppBrain, you can make lists for separate devices, or a list of apps you don’t want to install, but just want to keep an eye on for certain updates. You can then use the AppBrain app to start a batch install of all the apps in your list. Granted, the install isn’t seamless anymore, since Google shut down third-party access to push installs on free apps, but it is still a better way to manage apps. And, on top of all that you can choose to have the lists public or private.
Social is the way of the future, and it’s surprising how few options Google has put in the Market Web Store in that regard. The inclusion of smart-links, which detect whether you’re on mobile or desktop is nice, but there are really only two ways to share links: Twitter or e-mail. Google didn’t even offer options for Buzz (sorry), or Facebook. On the flip side, AppBrain offers all of those options, plus lists, as I mentioned before. With a public list, you can easily see what apps your friends have installed or even some of your tech heroes (currently, I’m following the cast of TWiG: Leo Laporte, Gina Trapani, and Jeff Jarvis.)
Or, there is the way AppAware deals with social, which is to have both the top installed and uninstalled apps listed, so you can see trends of what’s hot and what’s not. The AppAware website offers options for listing the past hour, day or week, and the AppAware app gives you real-time data.
This is the one that surprised me the most since Google is at heart a search company. The Android Market Web Store only offers filters for free/paid apps, compatibility (though that option isn’t live right now), and relevance/popularity. This is extremely limited.
AndroLib offers filters for category, review star ratings, and number of downloads (<50 through >250k).
AppBrain has built in filters which hide explicit or spam apps, and on top of that offers filters for free/paid/new/updated, price drops, App2SD support, OS compatibility, relevancy, hotness, 1 week popularity, popularity, rating, and time.
On top of that the actual search results are pretty bad. If you search for “Twitter”, you’ll get some good hits at the top, including Tweetcaster, Twydroid and the official Twitter app (although the official Twitter app isn’t the top hit for some reason,) but beyond there are none of the lesser used Twitter apps like Plume (my favorite), TweetDeck, Seesmic, or Hootsuite. Instead, the search results come back with InkPad Notes (the #2 hit), Zenonia 2, The Moron Test, and Skyfire.
Google has the best looking Android web store around, and the only one to offer web purchasing of apps, push installations, and transaction histories, but this is still the Android Market Web Store 1.0. Google has a lot of options for improving the site and bringing much more robust features for discovering related apps, app management, sharing and search filters. We’ll have to see how often Google updates the Web Store, but this is certainly a good start. As with most tech launches, I can’t wait for version 2.0.