Grooveshark’s Removal from the Android Market: A Change in Policy or Just Business?

Google’s recent move to remove Grooveshark from the Android Market may seem insignificant; however, it’s a sure sign that all app stores need regulation, following Apple, who has been criticized for doing so.  The choice of removing Grooveshark was controversial, it has been accused of violating copyright law, but has not formally faced the court in the matter- they have been sued by a record company, but after agreeing to catalog their items and pay licensing, the charges were dropped.  There was no legal action forcing the Android Market to remove Grooveshark, and unlike the Apple Store’s removal, it was not a direct threat to iTunes, as Android does not have an official music store yet.  Grooveshark has also been on the Market for more than a year.  Google is under increasing pressure- the removal of Grooveshark could have been linked to the congressional hearing on piracy and Google or from the music industry, as Google is planning to open a music store in the coming months.

Grooveshark, located in Gainesville, FL

Grooveshark has reiterated that they are fully DCMA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) compliant, having a specific portion of their website dedicated to reporting copyrighted content that iis not licensed. In addition, they suspend users who upload copyrighted content (only after a complaint) from uploading entirely.

This removal was likely from industry pressure, but Grooveshark is a real company, and not a file-sharing website.  While this does not make their service more-or-less legal, Google felt it was necessary to remove Grooveshark for the good of the platform, as the music industry will become an increasingly important partner of Google. As Google needs more allies, expect Google to be a little more business-like and away from their traditional open-source philosophy.

For rooted and sideload-enabled phones, Grooveshark will surely find a way to install itself on Android, just as they have done with adding Grooveshark to iOS via Cydia, the jailbreak app store. Grooveshark is still alive and running on Palm webOS, Nokia Symbian, and BlackBerry App Stores, and online.

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What Android Still Needs to Stay on Top

According to a recent Nielsen survey, Android is the most popular smartphone OS in the United States, above Apple’s iOS and RIM’s BlackBerry OS. In order to keep on top and not fall behind Apple, Android has some key items it needs to address and improve upon:

Apps and Developers
The Android Market is growing in size at a great rate, but still lacks specific apps. Companies still usually build an iOS app, and then depending on its success, expand it to the Android platform. Android needs reasons to have its platform be the number #1 place to begin. Most companies still think the iOS platform is bigger, better, more mainstream and is used by more users. Apple products also have a “cool” appeal in today’s culture. These facts are rapidly changing, but as they are, companies still do not understand this, and believe that Android is more difficult to develop for. This is not true. However, compared to Apple, developers are not given as much support and documentation. This scares newer and amateur developers away from the Android platform, and toward Apple’s platform, even with its higher cost.
To encourage developers to embrace the Android platform, Android needs to show developers that they are fully supported with more documentation and tools, and highlight the advantage of developing on the Android platform: no limits. Android should take advantage of Apple’s tightly restricted ecosystem where apps can only run in their specific environment . In Android, multi-tasking does not have to be putting each app into a standby mode, but actually running it in the background. In addition, Android developers have the entire genre of customization with launchers etc. that is unavailable to iOS devices that have not jailbroken. Android should take advantage of Apple’s faults.

Marketing
Android needs to update it’s marketing strategy, which is non-existent besides from carriers and handset makers, to clear public misconceptions and educate the public on the operating system. Most Android ads feature a handset rotating 360 degrees, or a laser-beam shooting out of it while a voice lists its specifications, or praise it has received. For marketing, Android, wireless carriers and handset (and tablet) makers should take a page out of Apple’s playbook. Apple has a large advantage because they make the software, and the hardware, and have no need to compare one iPhone to another. Apple’s ads only have to ensure that consumers choose Apple. On the other hand, handset makers, and carriers have to advocate for the network, and the brand, once users choose Android. However, these advertisements spend so much time talking about the specific phone’s specifications, which most consumers do not understand, that Android is left out. The best mention Android gets is “a phone with the Google Experience”. What does that even mean? Apple ads never talk about specifications, because there is really no option or choice, but detail the operating system, the apps, the experience editing a movie on the phone, the ease of making a call while on the internet (AT&T only) and sending videos to friends and family. The best mention of sending videos in an Android phone ad will be “send videos faster with the 1GHz processor Snapdragon processor at lightning speed”. Again, I emphasize that most consumers do not care if the processor is Snapdragon or Tegra, or 1GHz or 1.2 GHz. However, handset makers feel it is necessary to list these specifications, as it will differentiate the specific Android phone from another.
If Android is to successfully advertise, Google, the company who financially backs and owns the Android platform, should put some money into advertising the platform. So should networks and handset makers. Spend part of the ad going through the home screen, watching the widgets update with life information on facebook friends– these are all things that the iPhone cannot do, even with a jailbreak. In addition, use the Google name. Samsung, LG, Motorola, especially HTC, who came out of nowhere in 2008, are not powerful enough in the USA to be big trustworthy notable brand names. Google’s name has power, familiarity, and a powerful image, similar to Apple. More than 180 million people use Gmail, and Android advertisements never succeed in using the Google name to their advantage. A “Google Experience” does not mean much– highlight easier access to your Google services, and the freedom of the Android operating system.

Security
Security is a huge issue that an open mobile operating system like Android needs to address. At time of writing, reports of Malware on Android phones in China have come up, and if this trend continues without any intervention or prevention from Google, the entire Android platform will endure a huge setback. Apple’s iOS has a huge advantage in this field as it is a closed operating system , and will use it to pulverize Android and Google if security issues remain. iOS vs. Android ads will appear similar to Mac vs. PC, and Android will have a long road to a comeback. This is especially important if Android is to try to appeal to corporate IT. If corporate IT departments officially ban Android, expect sales to plummet.
To avoid a catastrophe, Android needs to sponsor some Android anti-virus app while improving security, be more active in finding and removing malicious apps, and maybe even close or limit some modes of accessing the device. This will cause ire from some users who switched from Apple to avoid censorship and have freedom from restraints, but it must be done for the sustainability of the entire operating system.

Why the Motorola Xoom is Android’s Best Chance to Attack the iPad

The Motorola Xoom was greeted with many oohs and aahs at CES 2011, as it was the first Android tablet to run Honeycomb, which is Android 3.0- designed with the tablet in mind. While many Android tablets were announced at CES, the Motorola Xoom has the most going for it, and the most backing to give Apple a real competitor.

The first mainstream Android tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, was heavily pushed by Samsung through advertising and multiple carrier support ( available on all major US carriers), but lacked developer and software support. The tablet ran Android 2.2, designed for cell phones, on a 7 inch device. The Android operating system was already fragmented with screen sizes between 3.5 inch and 5 inch, but Samsung pushed it too far running a cell-phone operating system on a 7 inch tablet. Many apps crashed, had horrible graphics or did not work altogether and required app developers to modify their software for one more device- not a new software release that would utilize all new features, but access for one device.

The home screen of the Xoom highlights the advantages of the Android operating system, having what's important to you upfront, not hidden in an app

The Motorola Xoom has a chance to steal a larger piece of pie from Apple. Running a tablet-optimized operating system, developers will have incentive to build apps, as upcoming tablets will be also run Honeycomb. Like any Android device, users have their important information upfront in a widget, unlike in the Apple ecosystem where all information is hidden in apps which the user must consciously access. The Xoom also has the benefit of being a joint project between Google and Motorola, as Honeycomb had not been officially announced to the public before the arrival of the Xoom. A direct partnership with Google, combined with Motorola’s history and reputation for keeping their products updated (The original Motorola Droid, two years old, received Android 2.2 in early-September) suggests that the Xoom will be supported for a few years, and not dropped and left in the cold like some of Samsung’s products. This puts Motorola on the same ground as Apple, which designs the software and the hardware, who supported the iPhone 3G from late 2008 to the end of 2010. Android software moves fast, and Xoom users should feel confident that they wont be left behind by Motorola.

As the first Honeycomb tablet, the Xoom has a responsibility to show off the full power of Honeycomb. In this respect Motorola is also on the same ground as Apple. The hardware is designed to fully take advantage of the software- even a barometer, which measures pressure in the atmosphere, is installed.

While the Xoom is Android’s best bet, its success will depend on the number of apps optimized for Honeycomb tablets, and adoption and promotion by its customers. Motorola does not have the same level of brand recognition as Apple, and Android does not capitalize enough on the Google brand name. Compared to the iPad (version 1 or 2), the Xoom has a much higher price tag that might turn away customers who compare it to the iPad without looking closer.

The Xoom won’t be an “iPad killer”, such a thing does not exist, but Xoom’s objective is to grasp a portion of market share from Apple, who at time of writing holds more than 80% of the market.