Google's App store for the Android mobile operating system is called the Android Market; for nearly a year, it's looked like a beta build. All of the critical elements are in place, but generally with a lack of presentability and polish. It uses a white-on-black color scheme (not good for reflective mobile phone screens); its application profiles lack screenshots, and it features user reviews a little too prominently to be beneficial to sales; the featured apps are little more than the application's logo on the top of the first page; and overall, its navigability is mediocre.
Developers who have recently made their sales figures public blame the Market's unfinished appearance on the overall sluggishness of sales when compared to the multi-million selling iTunes App Store. While I maintain that the two mobile app markets should not be compared (if only for the fact that the iTunes app store evolved out of the six-year old iTunes MP3 shop ecosystem, and all of its progenies have been designed to be mobile app stores from the ground up), Android Market definitely needed to be re-thought.
Yesterday, Google Mobile Platform Program Manager Eric Chu posted a video in the Android Developer's official blog which showed that the Market has been redesigned, and most of the design shortcomings appear to be fixed.
The new features include an easier-to-read black, white, and "Android Green" color scheme, the ability for developers to post app screenshots in the description of their products, and a redesigned classification system which lets the user browse apps in a method more like the iTunes App Store.
Currently, when a user clicks on the Android Market, he is taken to a list where he must choose to start browsing Applications, Games, Search, or "My Downloads." The only apps present are the featured ones that cross the top of the screen in a scrollable marquee. In the new Market, the first page keeps the marquee, but has replaced the list of browsing options with the day's featured apps. The filters for Applications, Games, and My downloads has moved to the top of the screen. It's a much more app-centric use of screen real estate. The apps or games can then be filtered by the top paid and top free in their category; currently, it can only be sorted by the most popular of all time and the most recently added. For repeat users of the Android Market (read: every user) the most popular tag is wholly useless because the same apps have been listed there since the Market opened.
With a more appealing design, more ways to show off apps to users, and improved filtering, the new Market gives developers better tools to sell their wares.
The new Android Market will be packaged with Android 1.6 (a.k.a., "Donut"), which currently has no clear date of availability. Though there have been rumors that Donut will not be supported on the currently available Android devices (G1, myTouch3G), curious users can still experience some of the features that will come with the update. The Cyanogen mod on rooted G1s, for example, is built on the Cupcake 1.5r3 build, but includes parts of the Donut tree that are currently available, such as the homescreen settings widget, the "app fuel gauge" and the power widget, and support for PPTP/L2TP VPNs and WPA Enterprise support.
As cyanogen himself said on Twitter yesterday, "Remember.. 1.6 is a minor upgrade. Some really good stuff, but this isn't going to steal your wife or wash your car. Eclair maybe :)"
For users it may be a minor upgrade, but with the improvements to the Market, this will be an absolutely major release for the Android ecosystem.