We’ve got used now to on device application stores and in many respects it is hard to imagine how we got by without them before. They have their advantages, ease of use being a big one and the ability to re-download stuff from a central repository has been a major boon for me. The first one, in fact the only one, I had used prior to Android was the iPhone AppStore and it is the one that has drawn both the most applause and at the same time, the most criticism. I’m not getting into that here however as I intend to give a little more detail about my thoughts on the Android version which may help anyone thinking of moving from the iPhone to an Android device but who may be concerned that they might lose some of the functionality of the Apple version.
So, the store is accessed by an application button which you can place basically anywhere on any one of the 7 available customisable Home screens on the HTC Hero. One advantage over the Apple one is that as it is less graphically intense then it loads much more quickly on 3g or 2g connections. On the opening screen, at the top, there is a strip of featured apps showing their icon and name but giving no info about what the app actually does. These change recently frequently. Pressing on one opens up a new page giving a description from the developers and listing 3 most recent comments from people who have tried it out. You also get some info as to how many times it has been down loaded and the average rating but there are no screenshots available on the o/s version currently installed on the Hero. This is being addressed however by the newest Android version and many are already enjoying the benefit. I’m not however.
From this page you can download the app and try it out. Here’s another big advantage of the Android store over iPhone. For paid apps, you can buy via Google Checkout and use the app for 24 hours. If you don’t like you can go to the “My Downloads” section and get a refund. This refund is almost instant and hassle free and is great because there is no gamble involved in buying software that has no trial version available.
Back to the opening screen now. Below the featured apps you will find the following categories….Applications (lists every single app currently available split up into various categories such as News & Weather, Multimedia, Productivity, Tools, Lifestyle, Comics, Finance etc etc) I find it a bit cramped here and I wouldn’t say that all apps are accurately categorised either…sound familiar?. Next on the opening screen is the dedicated Games category which again is further split into sub categories then a Search facility and lastly the My Downloads section. Here, every app you have bought or is on your device is kept nice and tidy and available for easy access or uninstalling or re-downloading. Apps that have been updated are thrown to the top of the list, so you notice then first, and can be updated with two screen presses. Usefully, it tells you if the app is “installed” or just “purchased”. It really is quite slick and easy to use. A general point here is that the majority of Android apps seem to be smaller than their iPhone equivalents and thus can be downloaded quickly, even over 2G. They are also, in my opinion, less fully featured and there is even more crud here than in the AppStore. Not crud as in 2 500 fart apps but rather some really crap bits of software. I’ve kept only a small percentage of apps downloaded. There are some gems but overall, the good Android apps cannot live with the better Apple stuff.
If you think the review comments on the AppStore are bad then you may want to think again after checking out the Android version. Nobody seems able to post a review longer than “thx mate gr8 free app” or “crap…made my hero freeze’ and there is not much of a constructive nature. Sure, some apps get great reviews but lesser apps get derided and you end up learning very little. Still, as mentioned above, buying or gambling on an app is less of a worry through the refund option and in addition, there are plenty of apps offering “lite” or “demo” versions.
The Search facility is pretty decent and it stores your previous searches so when you start typing a list appears for quick access. But, and this annoys me as it does with Apple, there is no way to tag software that you may wish to try later or come back to. There’s none of this “load 25 more” apps as you get on the iPhone, every single apps fitting the search criteria is listed automatically and you just keep scrolling down until the last one appears. Android gives you two viewing options on every apps page….By Popularity or By Date, not too dissimilar from the Apple system. Going back to the speed issue, I never feel comfortable using the iPhone AppStore unless I am doing it via wifi, I just find it too slow otherwise whereas the Android store is tolerable even on lowly 2g.
I’m now looking forward to getting my hands on the new, updated MarketPlace as it sounds like it offers some very useful enhancements but even in its current guise there is a lot to like about the whole system.