To curate or not to curate, more than ever that's the question facing Google.
Last week, Google announced it would start scanning Android apps for potential malware. Once someone uploads an app, Google new service--codenamed "Bouncer"--henceforth will scan for known malware, spyware, Trojans, and any indications that it may raise security red flags.
An overdue move. McAfee last year gave Apple's iOS the nod over Android when it came to being the safer environment. Smartphone vendors can't expect more mulligans from users who get frustrated using lousy or security-compromised apps. A report the other day confirmed what other recent studies have noted: smartphone sales are far and away outstripping sales of PCs. For a company like Google, that means more good times ahead, assuming it gets a handle on Android fragmentation and app quality control. (For the record, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt still believes Android fragmentation does not exist. No word yet on whether he instead trusts in the Easter Bunny.)
Fact is that every time a fake app turns up on the Android Market--the most recent included counterfeit versions of "Joyride," "Madden NFL 12," "Batman Arkham City Lockdown," "Angry Chicken" among others--Google gets roasted over the coals. Also, the bad publicity fans the invidious comparisons with Apple, where management long ago decided that every iPhone app must get vetted before going live on the iTunes Marketplace. Google screens Android apps only when developers upload them to the Android Market but does not require pre-approval.
Was it a first small step down the path that so many users have been urging on Google? Probably not--or at least not yet--but a necessary one. As the Register acerbically--and quite rightly--described it this "whack-a-mole" approach is always fated to remain one step behind the times. The onus gets put on some unlucky Android user somewhere to squawk before things get fixed. The age-old debate about the relative advantages of a tech ecosystem versus a monoculture continue. Some developers may find Apple to be a pain in the neck to deal with, but the company still wins plaudits for having the best reputation for product quality.
Google didn't respond to a request for comment so let the speculation about this week's hiring of Simon Prakash run wild. Prakash, who labored at Apple for eight-plus years, was most recently its senior director of product integrity (Note to Simon: Update your LinkedIn page.) With Google hiring the guy responsible for product quality across all of Apple's products, might more changes in Android app policy be in store?