The Android Market

The Android Market is the primary place for downloading apps for your Android phone. Some phones also ship with access to device-specific app stores as well, but all of the phones so far can use the Android Market. Some devices, like the Android-based Nook, are not intended for use with the Android Market.

Right now, there are several versions of Android shipping on phones you can buy new. So how do you know if your Android 1.5 device will run the latest Twitter app? The general rule is that, if you can see it, you can run it. Developers can exclude incompatible devices from seeing their apps in the Android Market.

In this chapter I'll go into more detail about how you download and find apps, how you leave feedback, and how you can try before you buy. You'll also learn about eleven must-have apps to download right now.

QR Codes

Before we go further, let me introduce you to QR (quick response) codes (Figure 14-1). You may have seen these square bar codes on objects or web sites. The QR Code was patented by the Japanese company Denso Wave. Rather than restrict use with licensing fees, Denso Wave chose to allow anyone to generate or use QR codes without having to pay a fee, and their use has been growing as smartphone use grows.

Figure 14-1. Example QR code (goes to the XZing Barcode Scanner app)

QR codes can contain all sorts of information, like map locations, URLs, notes, names, phone numbers, and product identification. You don't have to worry about scanning them right-side up; upside down and sideways will work, too. They're easily read by phone cameras, so they make an ideal way to offer information to phone users without requiring a lot of typing. In fact, you may want to print a QR code on the back of your next business card, so smartphone users can scan in your contact information immediately. You can generate your own codes from http://zxing.appspot.com/ generator.

Your phone may not have shipped with a bar code reader. There are countless apps in the Android Market that allow you to scan QR codes, including Google Goggles and ZXing's Barcode Scanner.

In this chapter and beyond, I'll use QR codes whenever possible. If you're reading this book with an Android phone in hand (and not reading this book on your Android phone), just use the QR code to get to your app faster.

Browsing the Android Market

You can visit the Android Market Showcase on the Web at www.android.com/market, although this site will only show you a fraction of the available apps. You'll need to use your phone to see the apps available for your specific phone model and version of Android. Launch the Android Market app from your phone's application tray or desktop. The initial page will look similar to Figure 14-2, with buttons for apps, games, and downloads; a splash banner; and a list of featured apps.

NOTE: You can also browse available apps on the Web at www.androlib.com and www.androidzoom.com. These are both ad-sponsored sites that pull data from the Android Market, but as third-party sites, they don't always have the most complete listings.

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Figure 14-2. Android Market

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Figure 14-2. Android Market

Notice that each app lists a rating out of five stars, as well as its price. You can click an app to read more details about the app, including user reviews. Sometimes you may want to browse through the featured apps to see what is new. Sometimes you know exactly what you want, and sometimes you want to browse, but only within a category, such as productivity apps or shopping. The Android Market gives you the choice. Some phones have a carrier button instead of a Downloads button. Verizon DROID users will see a Verizon button, and G1 users will see a T-Mobile button, for example.

If you're feeling precise, use the Search button at the top of the screen. You can search for a name or keywords. For instance, searching for "Twitter" would show you both the official Twitter app and apps that use Twitter in their description, such as HootSuite.

Navigating by Category

To navigate by category, click the Apps button and then select a category. You'll see three new buttons at the top: "Top paid," "Top free," and "Just in" (Figure 14-3). By default, the "Top paid" category is selected, but you can switch to free or recent apps by clicking the appropriate button. Apps are weighted by popularity, not strictly listed by rating. This is because it's easy for an app to get a five-star rating if only one person has rated it.

Figure 14-3. Browsing apps by category

Click the name of an app to see the details page associated with that app. You'll see the name, rating, two screen captures, the price, and a description of the app submitted by the developer. You'll also see any web site and contact information the developer has provided, such as an e-mail address and phone number.

If you scroll down the page (Figure 14-4), you'll see any user-submitted comments. The last three comments are shown, but you can click the "Read all comments" link to see more. You'll also see information about the developer, and links to any other apps they may have developed. If the app is deceptive or malicious, the very bottom of the page gives you room to flag it.

You may notice that each comment has a box with an X in it under the rating. Use this box to flag any spam comments you may see. Press the box, and you'll see a confirmation message asking if you want to flag the comment as spam. As soon as you confirm, the offending comment will disappear from your screen.

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Figure 14-4. App details: comments

Comment Differences in Android 2.2

In Android 2.2, there are a few changes to the Android Market to make the experience of browsing and evaluating apps more intuitive. Rather than being at the bottom of the page, comments have their own button, as shown in Figure 14-5. Rather than just an X to delete spam comments, you see an up or down arrow for rating the comments. You can rate comments as helpful, unhelpful, and spam. This is similar to the way users can rate Amazon.com reviews.

Figure 14-5. Rating comments in Android 2.2

Paying for Apps

The Android Market has a huge selection of free apps, but there are times when it's worth it to buy an app. You can use Google Checkout or direct phone carrier billing, where available. Currently, T-Mobile is the only supported carrier for direct billing (and for US dollar transactions only), but as Android gains momentum, this is sure to change.

Google Checkout is an online payment-processing system. Register for a Google Checkout account by going to http://checkout.google.com and using the same Google account you use as the main account for your phone. You can enter your credit card information and Google will store it. Register in advance to avoid the hassle of entering credit card info on a phone keyboard.

You can purchase apps in most foreign currencies using Google Checkout and your credit card (Figure 14-6). Google will give you an estimate of what the price is in US dollars. However, your credit card may charge you a fee for currency conversion or use a different exchange rate, and that won't be reflected on the bill.

Figure 14-6. Processing a payment in a foreign currency

NOTE: You have 24 hours after purchasing an app to "return" it for a full refund.

Downloading Apps

Other than payment processing, the basic steps to downloading an app are the same. Go to the Android Market, navigate to the details page, and click the Install button at the bottom of the screen. Android will confirm that you want to download the app, and it will also show you specific information (Figure 14-7) about what the app has permission to do with your phone. In most cases, the uses are quite legitimate, but you should read them carefully to make sure a word puzzle game doesn't have access to dial your phone, for example.

J Foursquare foursquare

Update available

This application has access to the following:

A Your location coarse (network-based) location, fine (GPS) location

A Network communication full Internet access

A Your personal Information read contact data

A Storage modify/delete SD card contents

A Services that cost you money directly call phone numbers

A System tools prevent phone from sleeping

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