Last week we reported that HTC is planning on releasing BlinkFeed and Zoe to the Google Play Store — and available for installation on non-HTC devices. Pause for a moment and let that sink it. It’s a huge deal.
Sure, they’re just apps, so there’s no reason that they couldn’t be distributed through the Play Store, they simply haven’t been in the past. There are many reasons why an OEM might choose to keep their apps exclusive to their devices. On the other side of that coin, there are many reasons why an OEM should publish their apps through the Play Store.
Apps that are published through the app store can have as wide or as narrow an audience as the publisher desires. Publishers can restrict which devices and which versions of Android their app can be installed on, and and even which geographic areas it’s available in.
Apps can be published and updated almost immediately, unlike apps that are “baked in” to a phone’s ROM and require a system update or patch to update. This means apps in the Play Store can be fixed, patched, improved, or otherwise updated in a much more timely fashion than apps included with the phone or tablet.
Play Store apps can be offered for a price, and can offer in-app purchases for additional content or additional features. These are both points that I’ve advocated in the past: if an OEM has a great app, but it’s “exclusive” to their phones, offering it for sale through the Play store not only introduces the company’s brand to an entirely new audience, it also could offer an alternative revenue stream. Put another way, the publisher would be saying that you can buy their app in the Play Store, but it comes free on its phones. Sounds like a win-win-win!
Or not to publish?
On the other hand, sometimes OEMs want their apps to be exclusive. Brand an app heavily enough, and get enough people who want it, use it, and love it, and they’ll be “customers for life” — because they won’t be able to get what they want anywhere else. If that sounds kind of like someone exploiting an addiction to you, you’re not alone.
However, sometimes there are legitimate reasons for not publishing an app. If it is part of the whole, and relies upon other components that are exclusive to the device, it may not be feasible to “decouple” the app from the device. A perfect example of this is Samsung’s “S”-everything apps.
As we showed you with our Galaxy Gear on the Nexus 5 video, there are a lot of components that had to be installed to get the Galaxy Gear to work with the Nexus 5 — and even then, it still didn’t match what the “native” solution offered.
Another example is HTC’s flip-clock widget, which relies upon HTC Sense to provide that awesome retro-animation. Others have tried, but without a launcher that supports the animation, it just doesn’t work.
Ratings are another risk to apps distributed through the Play Store. If an app is terrible, the users will tell you about it. One-star ratings aren’t the only way users can lash out against a poorly written or buggy app. Short reviews can be left that may paint not only the app, but the OEM in a very poor light. The app may rightly deserve the ridicule, along with the developer for not ensuring a quality product — or it might simply be mob hysterics. Regardless, apps that come pre-packaged with a phone or tablet are immune.
That is the question!
I, for one, would prefer all apps be distributed through the Play Store, even if they came at a price. If a company produces great hardware and great software, it’s a fabulous branding tool, and doesn’t require much more time or effort to publish and maintain. It could also cut time off the development cycle and help keep apps bug free and preforming properly, without requiring an entire system patch.
This will ultimately lead to apps being supported longer, and bugs being addressed even on very old devices that otherwise would have been forgotten — and vulnerable to exploits.
In the long run, apps will be better written, devices will have a greater likelihood they’ll be kept up-to-date, and people like you and I will be able to pick the best of all worlds when installing apps. All we need now is for more OEMs to jump on the bandwagon!
Who’s with me?!
Image Credits: The Office