Use the best, even if it’s a competitor

Experts and developers say that is in part because the Android Market, the dominant store for Android apps, has some clunky features that can be annoying to phone owners eager to make a quick purchase. For starters, Android uses Google Checkout rather than an online payment system that more people are familiar with, like PayPal. As a result, many Android developers make their apps available free and rely on mobile advertisements to cover the cost.

In large companies, when a team is building a new product, there is often pressure to use other products/services offered by the company, even if they are not the best products in the market or the best user experience.

That is a mistake.

Google’s Android Marketplace product and development teams should build the best product they can. For the checkout component, they should use the best product out there – the one that guarantees the best user experience.

Internal and external products should be treated the same and allowed to compete for the right to be part of the product. For example, if PayPal is the best product, they should use PayPal for checkout. This puts the onus on the Google Checkout team to improve their product – it forces them to be competitive and up to scratch. It ensures that the Google Checkout team is never complacent, never just expecting to be slotted in just because they are a part of Google. It forces a startup, competitive mindset onto the team.

This open, competitive approach is not easy to do. In fact, it is very hard. There will be a lot of voices that say that Google should push Google Checkout in order to get adoption up – basically, prop it up. It’s almost always the wrong way to go, in this case for the Android Marketplace and if you are willing to take a bigger picture, for Google Checkout as well.

It’s about the user experience, stupid

All the conversations about open or closed are somewhat irrelevant. Consumers don’t care about open or closed. They care about the user experience. They care that things are intuitive and they don’t have to “think” about things.

If users are unsure about

  • which app store to go to
  • which apps will be available in each app store
  • whether an app will work on their phone
  • if an app works differently on each phone, it is not a good experience for users. The average user will not understand it.

If, however, Android can

  • get one uber-app store that all Android users, irrespective of carrier and phone model, can access
  • apps that work on all phones without the consumer having to think about it
  • apps work the same way on all phones

then Android will win.

I really wished that Apple would not “approve” apps. They could offer a section for the “unapproved” apps that a consumer can use that their own peril. But they have no need to do this because right now, Android is till too hard to use.

Now, coming to the topic of Open – right now, Android lets the carriers play the role Apple plays for it’s app store. How, precisely, is that open? They are both closed – just in different ways.

Google’s image search

Once upon a time, Google’s image search used to be pretty good. If you did a search for a person, on the first page of results, you would get a photograph of the person if there was one on the web.

Here’s what I think Google used to do: show an image where they know the image matches the keyword you typed (good)

Here’s what they now seem to do: Find the keyword you typed on a page and then show you *any* image that shows up on the same page even if it is completely unrelated to the keyword (bad)

Huge, huge difference. And it makes a significant difference to the results.

I tried this with multiple examples, but for safety, I’m going to use the example of an image search for my name1 and there are five pages of results. Not a single one is relevant (i.e. none of them are me). They are almost all images from pages that link to my blog and therefore have “Shripriya Mahesh” on that page in text. Why does Michael Roberts’ image show up on the list? Because I wrote an HBS case with him in 1997 and so my name is on his page. Ta-da. Er… wrong!! With other examples I used, it brought back both photographs of the person and the multiple pages of random nonsense.

Is anyone else seeing this? Does anyone know if they have indeed changed how they do things?

  1. I used my full name Shripriya Mahesh. If I tried just Shripriya, I got 27 pages of results, none of them relevant