Distributing Your Applications Android

Now that you’ve prepared your application for publication, it’s time to get your application out to users—for fun and profit. Unlike other mobile platforms, most Android distribution mechanisms support free applications and price plans.

Selling Your Application on the Android Market

The Android Market is the primary mechanism for distributing Android applications at this time. This is where your typical user purchases and downloads applications. As of this writing, it’s available to most, but not all, Android devices. As such, we show you how to check your package for preparedness, sign up for a developer account, and submit your application for sale on the Android Market.

Signing Up for a Developer Account on the Android Market

To publish applications through the Android Market, you must register as a developer. This accomplishes two things. It verifies who you are to Google and signs you up for a Google Checkout account, which is used for billing of Android applications.

To sign up for an Android Market developer account, you need to follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Android Market sign-up website, as shown in Figure.
  2. Sign in with the Google Account you want to use. (At this time, you cannot change the associated Google Account, but you can change the contact email addresses for applications independently.)
  3. Enter your developer information, including your name, email address, and website,as shown in Figure.
  4. Confirm your registration payment (as of this writing, $25 USD). Note that Google Checkout is used for registration payment processing.
  5. Signing up and paying to be an Android Developer also creates a mandatory Google Checkout Merchant account for which you also need to provide information. This account is used for payment processing purposes.
  6. Agree to link your credit card and account registration to the Android Market Developer Distribution Agreement. The basic agreement (U.S. version) is available for review Always print out the actual agreement you sign as part of the registration process, in case it changes in the future.
  7. The Android Market publisher sign-up page.

    Android Market publisher sign-up page.

    The Android Market publisher profile page.

    The Android Market publisher profile page.

When you successfully complete these steps, you are presented with the home screen of the Android Market, which also confirms that the Google Checkout Merchant account was created.

Uploading Your Application to the Android Market

Now that you have an account registered for publishing applications through Android Market and a signed application package, you are ready to upload it for publication. From the main page of the Android Market website, sign in with your developer account information. After you are logged in, you see a webpage with your developer account information, as shown in Figure.

Android Market developer application listings.

Android Market developer application listings.

From this page, you can configure developer account settings, see your payment transaction history, and manage your published applications. In order to publish a new application, press the Upload Application button on this page. A form is presented for uploading the application package.

Let’s look at some of the important fields you must enter on this form:

  • The application package file (.apk)
  • Promotional screenshots and graphics for the market listing
  • The application title and description in several languages
  • Application type and category

Android Market application upload form.

Android Market application upload form.

  • Copy protection information—Choosing this option might help prevent the application from being copied from the device and distributed without your knowledge or permission. This option is likely to change in the near future, as Google adds a new licensing service.
  • Locations to distribute to—Choose the countries where the application should be published.
  • Support contact information—This option defaults to the information you provided for the developer account. You can change it on an app-by-app basis, though, which allows for great support flexibility when you’re publishing multiple applications.
  • Consent—You must click the checkboxes to agree to the terms of the current (at the time you click) Android Content Guidelines, as well as the export laws of the United States, regardless of your location or nationality.

Publishing Your Application on the Android Market

Finally, you are ready to press the Publish button. Your application appears in the Android Market almost immediately. After publication, you can see statistics including ratings, reviews, downloads, and active installs in the Your Android Market Listings section of the main page on your developer account. These statistics aren’t updated as frequently as the publish action is, and you can’t see review details directly from the listing. Clicking on the application listing enables you to edit the various fields.

Understanding the Android Market Application Return Policy

Although it is a matter of no small controversy, the Android Market has a 24-hour refund policy on applications. That is to say, a user can use an application for 2 hours and then return it for a full refund. As a developer, this means that sales aren’t final until after the first 24 hours. However, this only applies to the first download and first return. If a particular user has already returned your application and wants to “try it again,” he or she must make a final purchase—and can’t retur it a second time. Although this limits abuse, you should still be aware that if your application has limited reuse appeal or if all its value can come from just a few hours (or less) of use, you might find that you have a return rate that’s too high and need to pursue other methods of monetization.

Upgrading Your Application on the Android Market

You can upgrade existing applications from the Market from the developer account page. Simply upload a new version of the same application using the Android manifest file tag, android:versionCode. When you publish it, users receive an Update Available notification, prompting them to download the upgrade.

Removing Your Application from the Android Market

You can also use the unpublish action to remove the application from the Market from the developer account. The unpublish action is also immediate, but the application entry on the Market application might be cached on handsets that have viewed or downloaded the application.

Using Other Developer Account Benefits

In addition to managing your applications on the Android Market, an additional benefit to have a registered Android developer account is the ability to purchase development versions of Android handsets. These handsets are useful for general development and testing but might not be suitable for final testing on actual target handsets because some functionality might be limited, and the firmware version might be different than that found on consumer handsets.

Selling Your Application on Your Own Server

You can distribute Android applications directly from a website or server. This method is most appropriate for vertical market applications, content companies developing mobile marketplaces, and big brand websites wanting to drive users to their branded Android applications. It can also be a good way to get beta feedback fro end users.

Although self-distribution is perhaps the easiest method of application distribution, it might also be the hardest to market, protect, and make money. The only requirement for self-distribution is to have a place to host the application package file.

The downside of self-distribution is that end users must configure their devices to allow packages from unknown sources. This setting is found under the Application section of the device Settings application, as shown in Figure. This option is not available on all consumer devices in the market. Most notably, Android devices on U.S. carrier AT&T can only install applications from the Android Market—no third-party sources are allowed.

Settings application showing required check box for downloading from unknown sources.

Settings application showing required check box for downloading from unknown sources.

After that, the final step the user must make is to enter the URL of the application package in to the web browser on the handset and download the file (or click on a link to it).When downloaded, the standard Android install process occurs, asking the user to confirm the permissions and, optionally, confirm an update or replacement of an existing application if a version is already installed.

Selling Your Application Using Other Alternatives

The Android Market is not the only consolidated market available for selling Android applications. Android is an open platform, which means there is nothing preventing a handset manufacturer or an operator (or even you) from running an Android market website or building another Android application that serves as a market. Many of the mobile focused stores, such as Handango, have been adding Android applications to their offerings.

Here are a few alternate marketplaces where you might consider distributing your Android applications:

  • Handango distributes mobile applications across a wide range of devices with various billing models .
  • SlideME is an Android-specific distribution community for free and commercial applications using an on-device store .
  • AndAppStore is an Android-specific distribution for free applications using an ondevice store .
  • MobiHand distributes mobile applications for a wide range of devices for free and commercial applications.

This list is not complete, nor do we endorse any of these markets. That said, we feel it is important to demonstrate that there are a number of alternate distribution mechanisms available to developers. Application requirements vary by store. Third-party application stores are free to enforce whatever rules they want on the applications they accept, so read the fine print carefully. They might enforce content guidelines, require additional technical support, and enforce digital signin requirements. Only you and your team can determine which are suitable for your specific needs.

Protecting Your Intellectual Property

You’ve spent time, money, and effort to build a valuable Android application. Now you want to distribute it but perhaps you are concerned about reverse engineering of trade secrets and software piracy. As technology rapidly advances, it’s impossible to perfectly protect against both.

If you’re accustomed to developing Java applications, you might be familiar with code obfuscation tools. These are designed to strip easy-to-read information from compiled Java byte codes making the decompiled application more difficult to understand. For Android, though, applications are compiled for the Dalvik virtual machine. As such, existing Java tools might not work directly and might need to be updated. Some tools, such as ProGuard , support Android applications because they can run after the jar file is created and before it’s converted to the final package file used with Android.

Android Market supports a form of copy protection via a check box when you publish your application. The method that this uses isn’t well documented currently. However, you can also use your own copy protection methods or those available through other markets if this is a huge concern for you or your company.

Billing the User

Unlike some other mobile platforms you might have used, Android does not currently provide built-in billing APIs that work directly from within applications or charge directly to the users’ cell phone bill. Instead, Android Market uses Google checkout for processing payments. When an application is purchased, the user owns it (although any paid application can be returned within 24 hours for a full refund).

Billing Recurring Fees or Content-Specific Fees

If your application requires a service fee and sells other goods within the application (that is, ringtones, music, e-books, and more), the application developer must develop a custom billing mechanism. Most Android devices can leverage the Internet, so using online billing services and APIs—Paypal, Google, and Amazon, to name few—are likely to be the common choice. Check with your preferred billing service to make sure it specifically allows mobile use and that the billing methods your application requires are available, feasible, and legal for your target users.

Leveraging Ad Revenue

Another method to make money from users is to have an ad-supported mobile business model. This is a relatively new model for use within applications because many older application distribution methods specifically disallowed it. However, Android has no specific rules against using advertisements within applications. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering the popularity of Google’s AdSense.

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