App developers look to Android


Google Inc's Android operating system is storming ahead in its share of the global mobile Internet market.

Over the last quarter, it claimed 52.5 percent of the worldwide smartphone market, double its share a year ago and far ahead of second-placed Symbian with 16.9 percent, according to research company Gartner.

In China, more and more developers have joined the Android craze, hoping to cash in.

However, although expectations are high they have yet to translate into good revenues.

Mark Li has been complaining among his peer developers about how little he earns from his applications these days.

"It became harder and harder," he said, referring to a daily decrease in revenue.

The 25-year-old, who has developed six applications since July, earned 800 yuan ($125) in October, although the monthly revenue did rise from 800 yuan in July to 3,000 yuan in September.

"Something must be wrong with the advertising platforms I am using. Some of them may be near to closure," he said.

Like many other Android developers, Li makes money mainly from the advertisements shown in his applications by working with mobile advertising platforms. Developers get paid if users click the advertisement or download what is advertised.

Previously, two out of 100 people clicked on the advertisements and brought Li income. Now, only one out of 1,000 people do. Li's earning are falling sharply.

"Things may improve if I change some of the advertising platforms, but the overall climate, it's hard to change," he said.

Li is typical of a large number of Android developers in China. They rely on what they get from advertisements, and if it doesn't work well, their life becomes difficult. Many Chinese people are not willing to pay for applications.

While an increasing number of people have started to develop Android applications, not many of them are making good money.

About 31 percent of all developer teams in China are losing money. As many as 19 percent of them earned less than 10,000 yuan a month last year, according to a report by domestic research company Analysys International. The top ones that earn more than 1 million yuan or more a month account for just 6 percent of the total.

"Among Android developers, those making money are in the minority," said Sun Peilin, an analyst with the researcher. While Apple users go only to the company's App Store to download applications, Android applications are scattered across a number of forums and application markets, which makes it difficult for an application to be exposed to a large number of users.

"To promote the applications is indeed a challenge," said Chen Qiyan, a 23-year-old Android developer. To reach out to more users, Chen has tried writing promotional articles on forums and modifying the key words of his applications so that users will find them more easily.

His hard work paid off, enabling him to earn about 20,000 yuan in a good month.

However, achieving first places in an application market's recommendation list can cost a lot of money in promotional work. To have an application show up on the front page of a market's recommendation list, for example, costs as much as 200,000 yuan a month, Chen said.

Most Chinese developers are like small workshops rather than big companies, and with new applications coming out every day, older ones are buried below and are harder to find, said Hover Xiao, an analyst with IDC.

When developers do reach users, they may have to face the challenge of advertising. There are dozens of mobile advertising platforms on the market and most of them have a short life because they fail to connect well between advertisers and developers, Chen said.

However, Leon Zhao, manager of the Online Partnerships Group of Google, said he is still positive about mobile advertising platforms. He said more than one developer has generated revenues of tens of millions of yuan through Admob, one of the world's largest online advertising platforms that was acquired by Google last year.

"A key element for success is to enter the market at a good point," said Karl Zhang, chief architect of CooTek Co Ltd, the developer of the input-method TouchPal Keyboard, which won the Global Champion of GSMA Mobile Innovation Award in 2009, the first Chinese application to win a prize of this kind.

"If most people feel they need the application, even if only 10 percent of them ultimately choose us, we still have a large user base," he said, adding that an application that really satisfies a major demand is much more likely to win an upper hand amid tough competition.

A total of 40 million mobile phones in the world now have the software pre-installed, according to the company.

"Just as in any other market, the quality of the product is the first thing that counts, and the fact is most of the developers' offerings are not attractive," said Sun of Analysys International.

Although most developers in the Android market are not getting rich quickly, many still want to enter it.

Jia Zengtao, who began to develop Android applications full-time three months ago, said he still has confidence in the market despite the little money he is earning.

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