The app gap

It seems that the quality of Android phone apps has picked up from the days when we used to point and laugh at them (read: “last year”). One shining example is Papermill, which was created by my Internet pal Ryan Bateman, who you may know as the sassy and sophisticated SecretSquirrel on Twitter.

The Verge called Papermill “the first beautiful, simple Instapaper client for Android”.

Papermill, a new app from developer Ryan Bateman, is one of the first apps we’ve seen that falls in line with Arment’s challenge: it uses the official API, contains a number of the iOS app’s features, and it’s not free — it’ll cost you $3.99, in addition to the $1 / month Instapaper subscription.

Ryan has shared the results of his experience selling a well-reviewed for-pay app on Google Play and so far it hasn’t been stunning. You should, as they say, read the whole thing.

Go on.

Read the whole thing.

Look, there’s not point in my going through this if you’re not going to do the required reading.

Oh, fine. I’ll give you the highlights. After three weeks on the store, Ryan’s profit for his roughly 300 hours of work is about $590. I’m no math wiz, but I don’t think that comes out so well on an hourly basis. And the most requested feature, new fonts, will add additional costs that will probably chew up that profit.

The following paragraph highlights both why Ryan is the kind of developer Android needs more of and why it’s difficult for it to attract them:

Media coverage and sales of Papermill have already far exceeded my expectations and I can’t envision either increasing. With this in mind, it’s easy to conclude that the the application, with its current price and need for a subscription, will never generate a profit, especially when costs like fonts still need to be incurred. If I were to create a ‘freemium’ or ad-based version, the app’s profitability would almost certainly increase but I believe that this would decrease the quality of experience that the app offers and that is rare on the Android market.

Ryan has made a quality product that’s gotten good press and that he doesn’t want to dilute to chase dollars. In other words, he’s done everything right. Yet, he doesn’t think it will make a profit (unless Marco makes it the official Instapaper app for Android and/or he’s able to work out some other promotional opportunities). That’s the problem in a nutshell.

Of course, I should point out that Ryan would probably have had even less success with the same app on the iTunes App Store as iOS already has a flagship Instapaper app. It’s called Instapaper.

Still, it seems the reason Android has fewer quality apps than iOS is because, in general, Android customer don’t care about quality. They care about cheapness. As Ryan notes, this may be changing as the sheer number of Android device owners continues to grow. But for now, it’s still not great.

Don’t fret, Apple nerds. Even if Android phone apps are improving in quality, we’ll probably still have Android tablet apps to kick around.