There is really no better way for Google to admit to developers that it has an open source problem than to attempt to acquire its way out of it.
Of course, that is not how the company positioned its recent purchase of Appurify at its Google I/O developer conference late last month. Instead, Ellie Powers, manager of the Google Play app store, merely admitted in a keynote that developers have voiced concerns about how onerous app testing can be and that Appurify will make it much easier.
The elephant in the room? That testing apps submitted to Google Play is particularly difficult because Android, its mobile OS, has been fragmented into so many variations that it's like trying to say the same thing in a dozen different languages at once. Even Apple CEO Tim Cook cited an article that described Android as a "toxic hellstew of vulnerabilities" at his firm's WorldWide Developer Conference in June.
I actually had a chance to interview Appurify co-founder and CEO Jay Srinivasan back in March for my feature story on the economics of app testing. He told me that even though tech startups try to move quickly into the market by creating what's called a minimum viable product (MVP), consumers still expect it to be a stable product. Failures in that area can do much to explain the struggles of many app developers to get ahead.
"There's a massive need in the community [for better app testing]," he said at the time, noting the firm had done a lot of research into why apps got negative feedback within app stores. "We found 38 percent of all poor reviews were related to crashes."
With that in mind, Google's purchase of Appurify could go a long way toward helping reduce that particular statistic, but I think there could be even more afoot. It's important to remember that Appurify is not limited to Android but also available to iOS developers as well. So far, Google has pledged to keep it open across platforms. This means Google could be trying to find a way to tap into those developers who haven't shown an interest of bringing their iOS apps to Android or who see Android as a distinct secondary priority.
For example, Appurify brings a level of automation to app testing that may be considered more comprehensive than Apple's TestFlight, which is geared toward testing with real people. As such, the scope of Appurify's service gets not only a poor user experience but network and connectivity problems that are particularly acute in emerging markets, where Android already has a strong lead but where iOS developers may be seeking inroads.
Over time, Appurify could become a not-so-secret weapon in boosting developer mindshare around Android as a first-priority platform. And even if it doesn't make a significant difference with the iOS crowd, at least Google is taking steps to ensure that working with Android no longer tests developers' patience.--Shane