Is Android the new Linux?

First of all, it is fact that Android is based upon a modified version of the Linux Kernel, so the question in the headline above seems somehow stupid. Despite the fact that a catchy headline could bring more readers for this blog (I don’t think I’m supposed to say that…), the real idea about this title is to bring a discussion about Android and the App marketplace from a developer perspective.

During the past several years, Linux as Operating System has been growing and growing, with more professional applications and more user friendly interface. I’ve been using Linux on daily basis at my job as desktop, and I’m impressed on how well-polished the applications are nowadays. The only thing, which is good for the company, is that everything needed is there, for free – from the Evolution with MS Exchange interface to the excellent IDEs, like Eclipse and Netbeans.

I’ve seen companies attempts to make money selling off-the-shelf applications, but with few exceptions, they had all failed. Even the distribution makers had to get their revenues from other sources like support, installation and custom development, because selling licenses doesn’t seem to work for this business model.

On the mobile development market, Android has been a juggernaut, with its growth reaching the skies every new statistic your can find on Internet, starting beating Apple, Nokia and RIM in number of devices. Of course, one factor that helps is that Android is actually used for several different manufactures, making its growth easier in certain aspect, but the OS has also its qualities and neat applications that cannot be denied.

Another day I was browsing the Android Market and I was impressed about the kind of application was available. Although there are tons of legitimate applications, I could also find shameless rip-offs of well know applications available on another platforms. I have to admit that unfortunately this is part of the kind of freedom that this ecosystem brings, but at the end, this is very bad for all legitimate developers around there.

But the point that I’m trying to get here is that the Android marketplace is a wild environment for paid applications. It is the one with more free than paid applications (check Jan 2011 Distimo Report), compared with AppleĀ  Nokia and RIM’s app stores. What this means to me it that having more free apps, it is very likely that an app that a potential customer is looking for is already available there for free, jeopardizing any revenue you could get selling your paid one.

So, to a off-the-shelf Android developer would remain the in-app paid system or revenues coming from advertisement. A good example for the second is the best-seller Angry Birds, that release its Android version for free, but with ads. It might be good for them, but mainly because Angry Bird is well known, and it is been expanded for several different platforms, so they can do well selling ads. Probably this is not always true for less known apps.

I’m not saying that the Android platform is a failure, because it’s not. But I don’t believe it is as profitable as others stores for the off-the-shelf developer.

For Android developers, these applications would work more like a portfolio to show off than to make money selling them. I believe the real money is on in-house development and the professional services market. The kind of freedom we find on Android ecosystem is perfect for companies to build its own solutions to be used by themselves or for their customers. And also, with the large variety of device providers and form factors (smartphones, tablets, etc…), it makes easier for those companies to choose the right solution. So, while the off-the-shelf application market is unknown for me, the Android developer professional seems to be a very good choice to invest your time with.

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