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Angry Birds find new way to take your money

The Eagle has landed, with operator billing

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Addressing Android's lack of in-application billing, Rovio, the developer of Angry Birds, has begun asking network operators to collect the cash when a user wants to call for an air strike.

In September, Rovio took to the stage to demonstrate how a customer who had purchased Angry Birds could buy an Eagle-powered air strike using the in-application transactions enabled by Ovi – but the Android Marketplace lacks such functionality. This forced the developer to turn to the network operator for revenue collection.

That network operator is Elisa, Finland's largest, which will be selling Eagle upgrades to customers with Android handsets from next year. Rovio is also offering to help other developers who want to integrate their applications with Elisa's billing system, to enable the in-application transactions that Google won't process.

The difficultly, for Google, is that if the Android Marketplace starts providing in-application transactions, then the relationship between the marketplace and the user changes from that of a merchant and customer to a service provider maintaining a relationship with the user. That would undermine Android's promise of being an open platform supporting multiple application stores, as applications purchased from one marketplace would be forever tied to that marketplace for in-application transactions.

Ovi has no fear of that, and neither does Apple (the iOS happily supports in-application billing through iTunes, and the iOS version of the Angry Birds eagle is due any day now). Network operators have been very slow in seeing the advantage of tying customers to their network, but are ideally placed to take advantage of the situation – imagine the frustration of the player who discovers his new network won't sell him a virtual weapon upgrade!

Google's obvious response would be to create a standard Android API for in-application transactions, which could be linked to different marketplaces as they are installed. But that's a difficult thing to design, for little gain, and the next version of Google's Android Marketplace (rolling out now) is more concerned with prettier graphics and reducing the trial period (available for all Android apps) from 24 hours to 15 minutes.

Social gaming applications already make more money from in-game transactions than advertising or sale price – Android's inability to process such transactions is going to hurt the platform by denying developers an increasingly important revenue stream. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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