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Google to Add Android Payment Options

The makeover of Google's mobile app store Android Market continues as the search giant is expected to expand payment options beyond its own online transaction service called Checkout.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is planning several updates for the Android Market to coincide with the imminent release of Android 1.6, though a company spokesman declined to comment on when that will happen.

Still, the search giant is working to address some recent gripes from developers, the most recent being that sales are hampered by requiring a Checkout account to buy an app.

"We announced several Android Market updates that will be coming with Android 1.6," a Google spokesperson told InternetNews.com. "The main focus is to provide more tools for developers to showcase their apps. We've also made significant changes to the user interface to make it easier for users to find both paid and free applications. We are currently exploring additional payment options to make it easier for users to purchase applications."

The news of additional payment options comes on the heels of criticism from some developers who voiced concern over having Checkout -- which has yet to become widely adopted -- as the sole option for payment processing, as well as frustration over Google's 24-hour buy-and-try return policy.

Currently, users have 24 hours from the time of purchase to return an app, and some programmers believe this provides a chance for unscrupulous smartphone owners to play with apps and then return them for a refund without paying for the experience. So far, Google isn't budging on this policy.

"Our refund policy is designed to minimize users' hesitation to purchase an application," the Google spokesperson said. "Giving users the flexibility to return an application or game that they don't like within the first 24 hours of the purchase is a great way to increase the likelihood that users will try out new applications or games."

Google also does not disclose the number of Android Market downloads or available apps. However, AndroLib, a Web site that lets you browse the store from a computer as opposed to a handset, recently reported that there are a bit more than 10,000 Android apps available in the nearly one-year-old app store, of which 64 percent are free. By comparison, the Apple App store has about 65,000 apps.

Still, the additional features slated for the Android Marketplace come at a time when the open source mobile platform is starting to gain traction, most recently with the news of Sprint's plans to sell the HTC Hero next month. Motorola this week is also set to unveil details of Android-powered handsets slated for the fourth quarter.

The Hero will be just the third Android handset on sale in the United States, joining the G1 and myTouch 3G, both running on T-Mobile's network. Unlike the other two, the HTC Hero is the first handset to include a new user interface called Sense that analysts say delivers a truly standout experience compared to the competition.

Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, said in a research note that the HTC Hero will have a significant impact on the smartphone market.

"Android has been confined to two devices (i.e., the G1 and myTouch 3G) at the smallest national carrier in the U.S. (T-Mobile)," Greengart said. "Sense not only gives Google more distribution in its home market -- which will increase further when Motorola and Samsung announce Android products of their own shortly -- but HTC has also proven the value of the open OS approach by completely re-writing major portions of the user interface for the better."

Greengart went on to say that HTC's Sense integrates social-network data into unified views of contacts, calendar and messaging. While Palm's (NASDAQ: PALM) Pre also offers some of those features, Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone, Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Mobile and "plain-vanilla Android" do not, he said.

"HTC rewrote nearly every customer-facing part of Android's user interface, adding features and graphical flourish throughout," Greengart said. "Android is a capable OS, but it feels a bit unfinished; HTC Sense finishes it. HTC's changes do not change the good parts of Android -- deep integration with Google services such as Gmail, and the ability to add apps from the Android Marketplace."