Selling shovels to Android gold miners

I’ve developed many Android applications, the most notable of which is Car Locator which some argued marked the start of the Android gold rush. To aid common issues/annoyances in selling my Android applications, I developed several tools along the way that were immensely helpful in increasing sales. It occurred to me that other Android developers face similar issues and could benefit from these tools as well. I’ve packaged them up and released them at www.androidlicenser.com. Here are some of the issues I faced, and how AndroidLicenser solves each one:

1)      Application Piracy

Problem: Stealing apps is trivial. just do a google or twitter search for your application’s .apk file and it’ll be posted somewhere on the internet. A user need only to copy this .apk file to his/her phone to pirate it. I collected some data and found that Car Locator had an 80% piracy rate. That is, for every 1 person who bought the app, 4 people were pirating it. Google did release a licensing system, but as they posted on their blog, it has already been cracked.

Solution: AndroidLicenser uses an “Activation Code” client-server licensing scheme. Since all purchases go through Google Checkout, the AndroidLicenser servers will poll your Google Checkout account (your provide your merchant credentials) every 5 minutes and generate and email a unique activation code to any user who recently purchased your application.

Within the first 24 hours of first using the application, the user must enter this activation code into the application itself. If the licensing server finds that the activation code is valid, it will grant a permanent server-based license attached to the hardware id of the device/phone. Every time the application is started, the phone/device checks in to the licensing server to ensure that a license exists for the hardware id. If a license does not exist for the hardware id, the application will prompt the user to pay for the application. Since an activation code is only generated for those users who actually made a purchase through Google Checkout, and since a license can only be generated using a valid activation code, pirates won’t be able to steal your application. We provide a client library that makes it simple to integrate this into your Android application.

There are several other issues that are addressed in this licensing scheme, such as the 24-hour refund policy, users changing phones, no internet connectivity, and annoying paying customers too much. However, for the sake of brevity, I’m going to talk about how they are addressed in a future posts on the AndroidLicenser blog

2)      Availability in Different Countries

Problem: Paid applications are only available in 14 different countries. That’s only a very small percentage of the total Android users that developers are allowed to sell their applications to. I used to get daily emails from someone in a different country asking if they can send me money through Paypal in exchange of me emailing them the .apk file.

Solution: Android Licenser allows developers to sell their application in any country that Google Checkout is accepted (almost all countries). You simply upload your application’s .apk file to AndroidLicenser and set a price. A storefront will be setup where users can pay for your application with a credit card and be taken to a secure link where they can download your application’s .apk file. If you are using the “Activation Code” licensing scheme, you won’t have to worry about the user sending the .apk file to someone else because it won’t work without an activation code anyways.

3)      70/30 Revenue Share

Problem: Google takes 30% of any sales you make on through the Android Market

Solution: AndroidLicenser lets developer keep 100% of the revenue. Of course, Google Checkout will take their normal fees, but these are standard for any credit card purchases.

I’ve used AndroidLicenser for my own applications for the past 2 months and have seen an increase in revenue of about 150% -- from $4,000/month to $10,500/month. If you’re curious to learn more, or want to start making more money on your Android app, you can learn more about how AndroidLicenser works. I’m sure that you’ll be delighted with how much more money you will be making!