How open will initial Android Marketplace be?

John Shinal · August 28, 2008 · Short URL:

Google may have to risk looser security to differentiate platform from iPhone Apps Store

 The Android application marketplace that Google first hinted at last year is moving forward, and may be ready by the time the first Android-ready phone goes live on T-Mobile's network later this year.

It will be interesting to see whether Google runs the market with a firm hand or lets it grow wild like a Turkish bazaar.

All the talk so far suggest that Google's goal is a wide-open shop where any consumer can download any app onto any Android phone used on any carrier's network.

But, initially at least, that approach raises the possibility of some buggy or malicious apps ending up on consumers' phones. 

The Android folks are aware of the potential security threats, which is why they didn't release the APIs for the platform's Bluetooth and talk/IM functionality in the first version of the software developer kit.

That will restrict the first versions of the phone to run Google's proprietary programs for those features, meaning we won't see any cool third-party apps in that area for a while.

You can find some great debate on the Apps Store versus the Android Marketplace on these discussion forums.

The decision not to let developers at those APIs yet shows that Google understands what a disaster it would be if some bad-apple apps downloaded from the Android store disabled phones or, worse still, cause problems on a carrier's network.

Apple has had those same concerns, which is why it still vets every app before allowing it into the iPhone Apps store. A lot of developers and others have grumbled about the slow and selective process, but it's so far averted any big disasters, with the biggest problems being a short-lived $99 app that did nothing.

Rolling out new mobile platforms is no easy task. The security flaw in the iPhone's own interface software is proof of that. It's why wireless carriers have kept such a tight lock on their application decks in the past.

But with the carrier-centric proprietary model rapidly being replaced with a Web-based, open store model, more security threats are to be expected.

Whether the Android Marketplace is hit with more of them than the Apps Store will depend on how "open" Google thinks open should be.

Merely copying Apple's walled-garden approach would be the safer course, but wouldn't differentiate the Android Marketplace from a rival platform that has a sizable head start, both in terms of iPhones sold and applications.

Conversely, if it decides to let all apps into the store, this new frontier of development should attract a  sizable number of hackers wanting to challenge the platform and the Android coders assigned to patch it.

While it may be a bit messier at the start, my guess is Google will stick with the open source model and allow the back-and-forth between the black hats and the Android cavalry, because it will ultimately create a larger number of robust, exciting apps.

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