One of the key differences between Google and Apple’s approach to mobile software is that Google, as opposed to Apple, does not vet apps before users can install them on their devices, nor do they require that users download apps through a centralized piece of software like iTunes. While there are pros and cons to each respective approach, Google’s “anything goes” strategy can unfortunately lead to app piracy problems.
In light of that, Google recently announced a new service whereby Android developers can help fight against the pirated use of their apps.
This simple and free service provides a secure mechanism to manage access to all Android Market paid applications targeting Android 1.5 or higher. At run time, with the inclusion of a set of libraries provided by us, your application can query the Android Market licensing server to determine the license status of your users.
If an app is found to be unauthorized, developers will subsequently be able to remove it from a device.
So just how rampant is app piracy on the Android platform? It’s hard to gather precise details across the board, but if a recent report from Silicon Alley Insider is any indication, piracy on some of Android’s more popular apps is out of control.
Profiling the popular Android development house Hexage, SAI was able to glean some chilling stats pertaining to their wildly successful Android game Radiant, one of the top 10 best selling apps on the Android Marketplace in the month of June.
According to Hexage director David Peroutka, the percentage of Radiant users who didn’t pay for the app is as high as 97.4% in Asia, 70.1% in Europe, and 43% in North America. And at $2.40 a pop, that’s potentially a lot of money that isn’t finding its way into the pockets of the folks who deserve it. Admittedly, not everyone with a pirated copy of Radiant would have otherwise purchased the app, but with piracy rates through the roof, it’s undoubtedly affecting Hexage’s bottom line in one form or another.
And while Android’s openness may make things easier for consumers, the ability to install apps from any which way makes things tough on developers.
Apple doesn’t suffer from the piracy problems in the same way. To get a pirated game on the iPhone, a user has to jailbreak the phone. For Android, Peroutka says, “You can download the APK file to your PC, copy it to your handset, and then install it using a file manager. It’s very simple.”
That’s not to say that Apple is completely immune from app piracy. Indeed the iPhone jailbreak community is seemingly as vibrant as ever. But proportionally speaking, Apple’s iTunes-centric software model seems to do a good job ensuring that app piracy doesn’t spiral out of control.
Recently, Google’s open and relatively unmonitored app marketplace also experienced some security issues. A few weeks ago, Google removed 2 Twilight themed apps from the Android Marketplace after it was found that they contained hidden code which allowed the phone to “call home” to check for additional code that the developer could then add to the program. More recently, a popular wallpaper app for Android was removed after it was revealed that it sent information such as voicemail passwords off to some sketchy servers in China.