Apps on Android – wait, what?

Android has an app problem. Let’s not beat around the bush here. There’s malware and viruses in the Play Store and fake apps, like fake Temple Run and Angry Birds. It’s the nature of an open source OS – but it could be solved. Let’s look at the problems, and then think how Google, working together with developers, could solve it.

The first and possibly the biggest problem is malware in the Play Store. This is obviously a big problem. It goes hand in hand with the problem of fake apps – let’s say a user, who is not versed in the ways of Android, has heard about a great new game, Temple Run, that their iPhone friends having been avidly playing all week. The user, who has an Android phone, can’t play. They decide to go to the Play Store and search through the apps and find Temple Run. They search and wow, it’s on Android too! The user, overjoyed, downloads the app, only to find that it is just a picture from the iPhone version. No problem, thinks the user. But oh no. Because the user isn’t versed in the ways of Android, they don’t know how to uninstall the app. So they don’t. But the app has malware, spyware and viruses in it. These infect the user’s phone and steal all their data. When the user’s contract is up, he leaves Android because of the “rubbish” apps and gets an iPhone.

This has almost certainly happened before and it’ll happen again unless Google fix this problem. So how could Google fix it? Let’s have a look at some options.

  • The cheapest way is to have a virus scanner scanning apps in the Play Store when they get submitted, or when an update to an existing app gets pushed. Sure, it wouldn’t get rid of all viruses and some would slip through the net, but it’d get rid of a significant number.
  • Have human beings curate the Play Store. The problem with this method is that you would have to pay the human (unless they were volunteers from the Android community) for their work. On the upside, it would get rid of more fake apps and virus infested apps than a virus scanner could.

The second problem with Android apps is one that’s been raging for a while – and it comes down to this: Android doesn’t need more apps; it has enough of those. What it needs is quality apps.

By quality apps, I mean apps that adhere to the Android design guidelines, are designed well, and are useful. A good example of this is the new Tasks app – it is well designed, Holo theme, with a useful functionality. In my mind, Google should buy the app outright, it’s that good, but that’s for another day.

The way to make developers use the Holo theme more on 2/3.x is to make the Holo theme default on these essentially depreciated versions of Android (although over 50% of users still use Gingerbread, at the last count). At the moment, as far as I know, Holo is not default on these versions. Or, at least, the latest version of Holo, i.e. 4.x Holo, is not default.

In my mind, Google needs to shake up Play – Charlie Kindel recently speculated the Google much-rumoured tablet will be called the Google Play. I agree with this. He also says Google will move away from the Android brand, which I partly agree with. But that’s for another feature.

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