Android Market Revamp: Desperately Seeking Search

Google’s Android Market website got a face-lift sometime in the past few days, but the update has many scratching their heads over the continuing lack of search and other capabilities.

Layout changes have resulted in a simpler, more straightforward desktop interface, with incrementally easier browsing of the market’s top applications.

“Featured,” “Top Free” and “Top Paid” tabs give users a way to explore some of the most popular applications, and Google stresses that the site is just a “showcase for some of the featured and top ranked applications and games available on Android Market.”

For a more comprehensive, up-to-date list of currently available apps, the site directs users to the handset version of the Android Market.

‘A Step Back for Android’

Given the fiercely competitive mobile market, however — and the heat of Apple’s breath on its neck — it’s difficult to understand why Google would choose to keep limiting the site’s functionality in this way.

“The new Android Market website is actually a step back for Android,” Andrew Kameka, managing editor of the Androinica blog, told LinuxInsider. “It’s good that Google has made the website easier to browse the top apps, but the lack of a search bar or easy way to download those top apps defeats the purpose of visiting the website.”

Indeed, “they’ve apparently merely shuffled some things around,” lamented TechCrunch’s Robin Wauters. “Still no search, still no way to download apps OTA, still no statistics of any kind.”

Google officials declined to comment on the rationale behind the changes.

“We’re not going into further detail about the Android Market website at this time,” company spokesperson Anthony House told LinuxInsider.

‘This Experience Needs to Improve’

To be sure, things were worse before the revamp.

“What should have been a clean, well-lit, user-friendly place to shop for apps for work and play — the digital equivalent of a Best Buy — instead turned out to be a loud, messy bazaar,” wrote one reviewer late last year, for example.

Similarly, “browsing the Market just isn’t as enjoyable as what Apple’s iTunes offers,” wrote another in a review with screenshots last fall. “If Android Market’s perception as a poor man’s App Store is going to change, this experience needs to improve.”

‘I Give Apple Credit’

While the changed look may represent a small improvement, few seemed to think it would be enough to help Google in its ongoing competition with Apple.

“Though I’m not a fan of the Apple control system, I give Apple credit for creating an app store that simplifies app discovery and installation,” Kameka explained. “You search, find something, and you install.”

Android “desperately needs a similar solution on the desktop, but the closest we’ve come are third-party services like AppBrain and Cyrket,” he added.

‘Makes No Sense’

“Android clearly doesn’t have as many apps as the App Store,” Greg Sterling, principal of Sterling Market Intelligence, told LinuxInsider, “but how much is enough? I think Android has now crossed the ‘enough’ threshold for most people.”

Overall, the Android experience isn’t “as polished or elegant as the iPhone, but it does a few things things the iPhone doesn’t,” Sterling added.

Still, on the desktop, it “makes no sense that there’s no search,” he opined.

An Urgent Need

Apple may have more than 200,000 apps in its App Store, but the Android Market is now up to roughly 50,000, and that’s growing at an “incredible” pace, Kameka pointed out.

“The more that number grows, the more important it will be for Google to implement a more user-friendly download system for finding new apps,” he concluded.

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