Android, its app store and position in Asia

I recently blogged on Android’s huge 400 percent increase across Southeast Asia. However, despite this growth it is important to note that the devices are growing from a low base, which means that while these figures are impressive Android is not about to take Southeast Asia, or the Asia region, overnight. However, it will continue growing despite overlooking much of Asia when it recently added new markets to its application store, Android Market.

ZDNet Asia has the details, with selected points below.

In Asia, the market will only come to four new territories: India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. Those four now join Japan and South Korea as the only places in Asia where the Android Market supports your buying of paid apps.

Left out in the cold are the billions of people – and millions of Android users – across mainland China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, etc. That’s a lot of ignored and side-lined customers, who’ll have to continue to scrabble around for pirated apps on various forums on the internet, in order to ‘side-load’ them into their Android smartphones (all very reminiscent of the bad old days of Symbian phones, before Nokia’s Ovi Store finally showed up).

It’s little wonder that a number of Android app devs are sick of the rate of piracy on Google’s smartphone platform, and why there has been no decent games on Android until this summer, when OpenFeint (a cross-platform social-gaming service) decided to bring popular iPhone titles – such as the slash-happy Fruit Ninja – to Android; and the smash-hit Angry Birds announced their debut on Android too.

Android users in Asia do have a few other options as ZDNet notes:

A number of mobile telcos are opening their own Android app stores, so look out to see if your carrier has one of those. With any luck, they might support carrier billing, so you won’t need to use a credit card to buy apps. In China, if you bought an ‘Ophone’ flavour of Android phone from China Mobile, then you can use that carrier’s Ophone store. But, that doesn’t help if you bought a vanilla Android phone.   

Hardware-makers app stores exist, but not all brands have one. One of the best is Motorola’s own ‘Shop4Apps’, which is actually available in mainland China, and supports the country’s most popular online payment method, AliPay. If you’re on HTC or Samsung, though, you’re on your own.   

3rd-party app websites are perhaps the most convenient of these for users in mainland China would be or – the latter of which accepts payment by PayPal

The article finishes with a few thoughts on Android and its potential for Asia.

In closing, Android still doesn’t look like a great proposition in most of Asia, with so little support for either free or paid apps, if you’re the kind of person who wants all the latest apps as soon as possible.

To be frank, Google needs to get on top of the fragmentation issue, and adding good, localised support in a lot more countries – including the ones where a third of the world’s population lives – is crucial to that.

Apple has come closest to getting it right with its App Store, but users need a credit card that supports using US dollars, which is a pain; Nokia has finally clued up with Ovi and its Maps, but there’s still no native payment support in China, too; and we’ll have to wait to see if Microsoft finally introduces better MarketPlace support worldwide in time for the upcoming WP7 launch.


With low credit card penetration rates and billing issues, an Asian focus app store is no easy task – however it is one element that will help a smartphone contender position itself above the competition in the region.

ZDNet is clearly right that it needs to support apps however, in my opinion, a fully fledged app store is no guarantee Android will compete better against Apple, RIM and Nokia, all of whom enjoy a far greater and more desirable reputation, particularly in Southeast Asia.

Apple is…well…renowned for being Apple, a worldwide brand of innovation. Nokia has a history of leading the mobile market (excluding the separate debate as to where it is right now) while RIM has done an excellent job of promoting handsets locally in country markets. Where Android fits into that equation is unclear, but certainly competing on apps against Apple (the brand) and RIM (with the market reach) is challenging at best.

Personally, I see Android offering greater choice and affordability to the market.

With a totally different distribution model, it benefits from ‘a long tail’ of products. That is to say the existing competition is desirable for those looking to invest in a smartphone, however a number of Android-based devices offer budget/economy smartphones, often with a user experience/options which belie their modest prices. 

In that market segment it is debatable as to whether apps come into the decision-making process when buying a phone – so I would argue it is unlikely to affect Android and its progress too much.

Of course, Android does have high-level aspirations too – with some very neat devices coming out on the platform – however I don’t see consumers with bigger budgets moving to Android instead of iPhone or high-end BlackBerry or Nokia devices in Asia. Will an app store help make that change? It is likely to be one element, but only time will tell.

The issue is clearly a big one if Android wants to go beyond its position as the more affordable smartphone option – thanks to its range of supported handset manufacturers – and compete with the establishment, Apple, RIM, Nokia and others.