Loads of people from Apple haters to Apple fans have expressed displeasure at the sometimes seemingly arbitrary way that the iTunes App Store will reject apps. And for good reason – it is one thing to disagree with written and universally applied rules, as those are for the App Store owner to develop and enforce. But when the rules are vague and randomly applied … then it is correct to complain.
Which brings us to the Android Market. Last week the Android Market got the popular Flash ‘game arcade’ Kongregate, bought last year by GameStop:
Kongregate has been a popular, casual game arcade since launching on the web a few years ago. Making the transition to the mobile sector, Kongregate, now owned by GameStop (GME), has launched a new smartphone app for Android gamers. The arcade has over 300 free, Flash-based games, all of which are optimized for Google’s (GOOG) mobile OS. If you’ve got Android 2.2 or higher (along with Flash 10.1), then you’re good to go.
Some titles you’ll find in Kongregate’s new Android arcade include Vector Runner, Assembler, Perfect Balance 2, Billy’s Hill and Lost His Marbles. Expect new titles weekly, with social features for leaderboards, badges and comments. With this app, Kongregate joins the ranks alongside GetJar and other gaming platforms, delivering entire catalogs of casual games, centralized for mobile users.
But rather quickly the app was pulled without comment. Even a day later Kongregate had no idea what was happening, hoping it was a misunderstanding in a statement to Engadget!
Yesterday Kongregate CEO Jim Greer spoke to GamePolitics about the situation:
“The reason for the removal,” Greer said, “and we didn’t find out until after it was already gone, was that they claim you can’t use their app store to distribute another app store — which is a reasonable restriction. But to us, what’s really bizarre, to call [Kongregate Arcade] an ‘app store’ seems like a pretty extreme stretch.”
The Kongregate App is simply a portal to Kongregate’s games site for mobile devices (m.kongregate.com) offering around 300 games. These games are essentially played in a browser – enabled using the Android browser and WebKit. Greer went on to say that most Android app removals involved fraud, piracy, or other nefarious activities. He also cited examples like Game Boy emulators that are available today via the Marketplace that walk the line.
“Our understanding is that this wasn’t even a gray area; that it was totally fine,” he said in closing. “And that’s why we’re so surprised.”
Of course, Kongregate can go to an alternate sit like GetJar to distribute or even offer a direct apk install from their site, so the impact is different from getting pulled from the iTunes App Store.
Or is it?
I have spoken about how ‘mainstream people’ don’t use custom ROMs, don’t care about ‘Open Source’, and so on. I wrote about a poll that showed that most people want iTunes to price match Amazon. This would indicate that those people know about both shops and realize that Amazon is generally cheaper. Yet, in vast and overwhelming numbers those same people still buy – and pay more – at iTunes.
Why? Convenience. I use Amazon and eMusic for most of my purchases, so my family sees how easy it works, but my wife would rather pay a little more than have to hassle with a third-party intermediary program and cross-shop buying. And talking to others I get the same answer.
And the same is true with smartphones. We visited my wife’s sister and her family over Christmas, and they all got Verizon Droid 2s – I had actually helped my brother-in-law order them over Thanksgiving when they visited us! My nephew already had his home screens tricked out with widgets and apps and so on – he is the ‘power user’. My niece just wanted to be sure she could text and email everyone. My brother-in-law just wanted to be connected to the family, and was still stuck with his work BlackBerry. My sister-in-law… well, in reality I think she liked the IDEA of a smartphone, but was perfectly served with a feature phone. To me they represent the reality of the market. And talking to my nephew he has no plans to use custom ROMs.
My point? The reality is that if Google decides to pull an app from the Market (and this is not remotely the first time it has happened), it is essentially dead. If Motorola decides to hobble the bootloader in order to block custom ROMs, it means that it has killed anything but vanilla Android for those phones. And if Verizon decides to feature their crapware and sink the great Google Android apps to the app drawer, most folks will end up paying for craptastic VZ Navigator when the superior Google Nav is free and already installed.
Perhaps removing Kongregate makes sense in some way based on someone’s idea of the Android Market. But it is also a reminder that people need to stop trying to sell folks on some pipe-dream of mystical freedom associated with Android – it is a great phone OS, and as I said I will be keeping my Droid even when an iPhone is released on Verizon … but let’s all just admit that in terms of the overall market reality, it is no more open than Apple.