Google to Update Android Marketplace

Android SDK

Google today unveiled plans for updates to Android Market, the online store that sells mobile apps for handsets powered by the open source platform Android.

“We will soon introduce new features in Android Market for Android 1.6 that will improve the overall experience for users,” Eric Chu, of Google’s Android mobile platform team, wrote in a blog post on the company’s Android developer blog. “As part of this change, developers will be able to provide screenshots, promotional icons and descriptions that will better show off applications and games.”

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), Android’s chief backer, is also adding four new subcategories for applications: sports, health, themes and comics, according to Chu’s post.

The news of the updates comes at a time when Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) App Store — generally credited with popularizing the mobile applications marketplace concept — shows no sign of slowing down. It currently claims more than 1 billion downloads, though it’s faced recent criticism over claims of inconsistent approval guidelines.

Google has some ways to go with Android before it can challenge the iPhone App Store’s numbers. A recent report from mobile advertising firm AdMob said that the Android Market generally nets $5 million in sales every month compared to $200 million at the App Store.

Part of the reason, say some Android developers such as LarvaLabs, is that Google needs to change some policies regarding how apps are bought and sold in the marketplace.

One change they’d like to see is the addition of new payment options — right now, Android Market only accepts Google Checkout for its transactions.

Google did not immediately return calls seeking comment and generally does not provide statistics on download numbers.

The news also comes on the heels of Sprint’s plans to start selling the third Android smartphone in the U.S., the HTC Hero. The OS is expected to be updated to version 2.0 soon, though details have yet to be disclosed.

Google and Android handset makers aren’t the only ones gunning after Apple, which is set to roll out version 3.1 of the iPhone OS this month and just signed a deal to sell the iPhone in China.

Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) is ramping up an app store called Palm Catalog, which will offer apps for use on its new Palm Pre phone. The handset maker is also expected to release in next quarter more handsets based on the Pre’s webOS software.

Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) is slated to release the update to the touchscreen Blackberry Storm 2 next month, and is joining Verizon Wireless in opening up an app store. RIM is also expected to offer a new mobile browser next year.

Nokia (NYSE: NOK) just disclosed details about its new mobile Internet device, the N900, running on its new open-source platform Maemo 5, and is planning to offer a netbook called Nokia Booklet 3G later this year. The world’s largest phone maker also unveiled a new line of music smartphones and opened its Symbian and Maemo platforms to developers with new APIs and an Ovi SDK.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is set on Oct. 6 to roll out a slew of phones powered by the latest version of Windows Mobile, version 6.5. Carriers and handset makers listed for Microsoft releases in North America include AT&T, Bell Mobility, Sprint, Telus and Verizon Wireless, and phone manufacturers HP, HTC, LG Electronics, Samsung and Toshiba.

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