As I mentioned earlier today (and a few times prior), developers will stick with iOS because that’s where the money is. iOS started the game with gift cards and millions of paying customers through iTunes. Android did not, and all the developer tools in the world won’t change that. They need more money in the ecosystem. While I’ve endorsed gift cards as a way to help do that, I’ve come to realize it puts the cart before the horse.
I did a little more digging into the topic of Android gift cards and came across an insightful blog post on jvance.com from Jarrett Vance, an IT consultant. He laid out three main points to drive home the idea that “Android Market Needs Gift Cards“. All good points, but his third raises doubts in my mind.
iTunes gift cards work as brand promotion because people already know what iTunes is. It reinforces the brand that already exists. Android, however, is not a widely recognized brand. Even folks who have Android phones often don’t recognize it, such as DROID users who only use the DROID name. Most non-techies I know with DROIDs do even not recognize the Android brand. Xavier’s nephew recently asked him about “DROID phones“, not Android phones. Verizon’s DROID marketing campaign has been highly effective at getting their name out there, but it’s not carrying the Android brand with it.
For another perspective, look at how Microsoft is handling the Windows Phones. Each phone has its own brand, but it is clearly marketed as a “Windows Phone”. Android has no such requirement. Android is often advertised as a feature, but those phones are not usually branded as “Android phones”. Meanwhile, brand distinction is not necessary for iPhone and BlackBerry since their brands refer to both the devices and their platforms.
Unfortunately, the brand problem is only a symptom of a larger problem, the dreaded “F” word: fragmentation. Verizon has their own app market, as does Samsung. Angry Birds is available on GetJar, not the Android App Market. Thus, even if there were Android Market gift cards, they wouldn’t work with all the Android app stores people use. Imagine a kid getting an Android Market gift card for his birthday and then finding he can’t use it to buy a Samsung App for his new Galaxy Player. That’s not a story Android boosters want floating on the Internet.
Thus, I am dialing back my support of gift cards for Android Market. It is still a necessity, but the brand and store fragmentation issues need to be hammered out first. There needs to be tighter association between the Android brand and those used by the individual carriers and vendors. To address store fragmentation, I would suggest a unified gift card system, perhaps co-branded, to be used by all Android app stores or at least the ones managed by Open Handset Alliance members. Android Market definitely needs gift cards, but more importantly, it needs them done right.