iconwrite The Android Market: how can Google be so careless?

June 20, 2011, 17:02

Disclaimer: I am an iOS developer, an Apple fanboy, I wet myself at each WWDC keynote etc.

I know I am biased, I work on Mac, I like Apple products' finition better and I lick my iPad at night while you're sleeping. I still hope the points I make below will be heard by the Android developer community and hopefully even by someone at Google's quality insurance department. After all this very website is hosted on Google Appengine, so while I am Apple's bitch I am in no way a mindless hater of Google.

As some of you might know is a one-man company. I have been an iOS developer for several years now and I don't know much about Android development myself. The growing size of the market has forced me to at least evaluate it. I have known Java for quite a while (Applets, J2ME and some server-side stuff) so I could easily get into this. However getting to learn a framework of that size is a lot of investment so I thought it would be cheaper to buy a pair of phones for testing (HTC Desire and Sony XPeria Mini Pro) and just pay someone to do a first port for me in order to evaluate the Market reactions to my existing apps.

So as a first test I paid a nice guy to port Horoscope HD to Android. It's a pretty simple application and I have closely reviewed the code and tested the app to make it look as close as possible to its iOS counterpart. There are few decorative animations missing and the implementation complies to Android standards but aside from that it's basically an exact clone (Thank you Vadim!).

So here I go, submitting my first Android app. It's going to get dirty.

Before I start yelling: first, a few things I actually liked

To be fair the rest of this post is about issues that need to be fixed, but I'd like to point out several nice aspects of publishing an app for Android:

  • Nearly instant publishing and updating: no review. Some could argue this is a risk from the end-user point of view, but this is surely a plus for the developer in terms of reaction time.
  • Easily add or remove languages, icon even after the app is published (on iOS AppStore you have to update the app version and wait for review ... again)
  • The site is FAST. Yes, I am looking at you iTunesConnect.
  • Registration is simple: no need for signed paper contracts.
  • And it's cheap: 25$ once (as opposed to 99$/year for Apple). That difference doesn't matter much if you plan on making a living off it but it's good for students to easily get into the market.

Now onto the real issues:

Encouraging automated translations ? Really ?

Whether you are on the iOS AppStore or on the Android Market, it's easy to spot bad developers. Instead of using a good human translation service they use automated Google translate or some other computer translation service. The results is that users laugh at them for their ridiculous translations. I have written enough blog posts about the advantages of paying hard cash to have real translations so I won't go into detail here again but to sum it up: automated translation sucks.

Now you'd think this kind of behaviour is the sole responsibilty of the developer and that the platform designer wouldn't encourage such a practice? Wrong!

When adding your app description in a new language on the Android Market you get a freaking checkbox that allows you to add one-click shitty translation to your app's descriptions. If that isn't pushing developers towards the lower end of the quality scale... People are good enough at doing crap by themselves, don't make it easier to do so.

Android automatic translation

Hebrew and Finnish but no Simplified Chinese ?

If you don't know much about Chinese language (just like me) let's recapitulate: Simplified Chinese is the variant used in mainland (pseudo-communist) China while Traditional Chinese is used in (ultra-capitalist) Hong-Kong, Taiwan and Macau.

On iPhone and iPad China is the individual country that sends most requests to my apps. That is several millions a month. Even if you don't believe that China has 1.3 billion people at least trust me: my apps have been downloaded several million times on iOS and I think I can safely say my numbers are relevant: China is a fucking huge country, much bigger than Finland. I love Finland and they sure deserve the right to have localized descriptions and so does every language on this planet. But if you're doing business you should prioritize according to market size right? But no, Google thinks users do not need a simplified chinese translation.

Not having support - anymore - for simplified chinese in the app description is just appalling. Apparently there once was support for this language but it was removed and now only traditional chinese is available. Some people point to the row between Google and the chinese government as the reason for this removal. Whatever the reasons are, this is utterly stupid. I am pretty sure this hurts developers opportunites to make money in China.

You could say that Apple sucks for doing the opposite: they allow simplified chinese description but no traditional chinese. I agree that should be fixed too. The only difference is that here you're losing contact with a much smaller market. Apple is doing business but what is Google doing here ? Politics? or child-like taunting ?

No localized screenshots at all ?

That's a simple one. Unlike on the iOS AppStore, on the Android Market you can only upload one set of screenshots for your app. This means either you show a french screenshot to your english speaking user, or the opposite. You could show both languages to both users and leave both confused too. And if your app, like the one I am uploading supports a dozen languages? You're left with two options:

  • let your app be misunderstood by many users (my choice)
  • clone your app 12 times, once in each language (the usual Android app spammers choice)

Why is it that Google lets you add descriptions for so many languages but doesn't let you associate screenshots with each one? It's not like it's a complicated feature to implement.

Screenshots format and quality

Now seriously, Google. You have some of the smartest engineers in the world, probably the world's biggest server farms and basically unlimited bandwidth but you can't crop images correctly or compress images with a decent quality ?

All you need to do is hire a 14 year old graphic designer to show you which compression quality settings are acceptable in PhotoShop so all your screenshots do not look like utter shit. Then you can ask one of your thousands of PhDs to automate this for your backend. Surely if the screenshot on the iPhone Appstore look perfect, yours could at least look acceptable ?

Also, what's the deal with the screenshot formats? So you thought it was a great idea not to impose, nor even recommend, a standard screen ratio in the name of 'freedom'. Fine. Now we have format issues and your (lack of) solutions suck:

  • If I upload a 320x480 screenshot, they look ugly, pixellated and full of huge compression artefacts on my HTC desire (480x800). Surely the unbelievably miserable quality setting you decided to use for your screenshots does not help.

  • If I upload a 480x800 screenshot, the miniatures not only still look shitty with the usual horrendous compression artefacts but now they are cropped with what appears to be a tentative at random artistic offsets? Granted, they look fine when I click on them. That's one thing done correctly.

How about letting the developers upload a set of screenshots in various resolutions so the user can see the one adapted to his device? Or at least crop the screenshots with the correct aspect ratios. That would be a start.

Just contemplate what those screenshot miniatures (uploaded in 480x800 with perfect PNG 24 bits source) look like in the market on my HTC desire: enjoy the ridiculous cropping and the JPEG compression at the lowest settings.

Android market cropping

Update: The promo image size magic trick

And just for the 'lulz' as some imaginary people say, here's my latest experience with the market. It asks for a 180x20 pixels promo image. So, while I think it's stupidly small, ok, I design it. Then when I try to upload it, it says the expected size is 180x120.

Android market cropping

Google's lack of attention to detail at work again.

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