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Handango cashes in on Android

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Selling mobile applications can be profitable, but the Android Marketplace is only dealing in freebies at launch - so Handango is offering a more familiar route to market that could be essential for the future of Google's platform.

Mobile-phone-super-OS Android should realise its first physical embodiment towards the end of this month, with T-Mobile (temporarily) claiming that pre-orders of the G1 handset have already sold out and Google parading the Android Marketplace as the one-stop shop for (free) applications.

But not all developers will be happy to give their creations away, so the news that mobile software retailer Handango will be listing Android applications is a welcome alternative which demonstrates the advantages of an open platform - particularly for ISVs with the quaint idea of making money from their efforts.

Google is hoping there'll be a range of Android handsets over the next few years, driven by the breadth of applications available on the platform. This premise comes from the desktop world, where we all use Windows because it runs the software we want - try changing and you find that the driver for your Twiddler won't work, or your Wavefinder is now reduced to being a designer lamp. Desktop operating systems are bought on the basis of the available applications, and the Open Handset Alliance (nominal owner of Android) is betting that mobile phones are headed the same way.

Handango is certainly the largest dealer in smartphone applications, a business in which it has enjoyed a duopoly with Motricity, with both companies hosting application services for network operators as well as their own portals.

Handango regularly reports that the best-selling lists for smartphones comprise enhancements, rather than applications, as smartphone users like to customise their experience to suit their personal style. Examples include replacement home screens, better email clients and additional synchronisation capabilities.

Apple has, of course, closed the door on such enhancements completely, refusing to list them in their application store with claims that duplicating functionality confuses users. The boys from Cupertino obviously have little respect for their customers.

Nokia takes the opposite approach: when the competition demonstrated threaded messaging, Nokia Labs banged out a patch to add the functionality to S60 phones within weeks. The most popular applications for S60 are almost all enhancements - not applications as Apple understands them - but essential to the success of the Symbian platform, and Android.

That's not to say that money can't be made from iPhone applications - one developer has reportedly made $250,000 in a couple of months from his puzzle game Trism, but trivial games won't sell the platform. Android is going to need enhancements as well as apps if the strategy is going to bear any fruit.

Many of these will be created, and given away, by developers working in their spare time, but everyone has bills to pay and quality software does cost money. Handango will take about a 40 per cent cut from sales, but it does offer an alternative channel and one over which Google has no control. This epitomises the difference between Android and the iPhone, though over the next couple of years it will be up to the developers to make that difference count to normal punters. ®

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