Android News

Hey, Android Developers: pay more attention to people outside the United States [Opinion]

May 13, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka



Remember those eye-popping stats from Google I/O day 1? The stats about how billions of Android apps have been downloaded, millions of phones have been activated, and that thousands of apps are in the market? Those numbers are that way thanks largely in part because of people outside the United States.

During his presentation on the new Android Market earlier this week, Market leader Eric Chu revealed that much of Android’s growth has been because of new users in Europe and Asia. So why is it that these people are so often on the outside looking-in when it comes to new app and product launches?

The answer is usually a legal or business-related one. It costs too much money to get the rights to stream music outside the U.S. and other companies may have already obtained the license to do so, so why should a new streaming company spend so much to compete on a global scale when the U.S. market offers more chance of success? There’s no sense in offering a bar finding app in Japan if you can barely afford to build up a maps database in Texas.

It’s understandable to neglect international Android users because of cost constraints or business roadblocks, but Android developers need to take note of the potential to target markets outside of the U.S. whenever possible. Business owners are often told to “go where the money is,” and that’s exactly what Android developers should do. More specifically, they should go where the money is going.

The United States once accounted for the vast majority of Android’s growth, but that growth has shifted to new regions like Asia and Europe. In Q1 2011, Korea activated 50 times as many devices as it did in Q1 2010, and Japan saw 40 times as many activations. Meanwhile, the U.S. had only 3 times as many activations. As Nokia and RIM continue to suffer global declines in market share, the majority of potential customers to purchase your apps or click your ads will not have an American accent.

The number of non-U.S. Android users prompted Chu to urge developers to focus on the international market because of its growth potential. A cynical person might be quick to note that Google doesn’t follow its own advice based on the frequent U.S.-only launches of its apps, but Andy Rubin explained in a post-I/O press briefing that Google prefers to launch in the U.S. only so it has a controlled environment when beta testing, and so it can fine-tune the product to meet the needs of international users.

Independent Android developers and companies not affiliated with Google should still recognize the need to be involved in more countries whenever possible. Make it so the new app you launch works as well in London as it does in Las Vegas. You may not even want to make an app for Las Vegas because there are probably fewer options for London, and there’s opportunity in providing something that no one else does.

During my time at Google I/O, I met developers who are mostly from other countries: Australia, Canada, Japan, Sweden, and a few other nations I can’t quite remember. Developers from those countries and the U.S. would be wise to do a better job than I did at paying attention to a map. Trends seem to indicate that the places outside the U.S. will continue to be covered by Android green. Now is a good time to take part in spreading that color.