With the next Android release, Google could get around to fixing its app Market's weaknesses—and maybe you'll get that update this year. In the meantime, AppBrain does a spectacular job of making apps easier to search, install, share and manage.
Why bother with a third-party app manager? Because AppBrain primarily provides a better three-step app experience—Search, Install, Update—for Android apps than the default Market, especially on phones that aren't caught up to the Android 2.2 experience. In a nutshell:
• Search, sort, and install/uninstall apps in your full browser instead of, or at least in addition to, your tiny screen.
• Click a link, install an app. The wait time is usually 2 seconds or less, from AppBrain.com to your phone showing the "Starting download" notification.
• Batch your installs, uninstalls, and updates, even if you don't have Android 2.2 yet.
• Other goodies, like public app list sharing (if you want that), remote wallpaper setting and storage (seriously!), and halfway decent recommendations, based on other Android/AppBrain users with similar app tastes.
The Current Market Experience
There are four main ways an Android user that isn't hooked into AppBrain can get an app right now:
- Search, scroll, and tap the app that comes up in their Market on the phone.
- Click a direct Market link from the web site of an app provider.
- Scan a QR code from a computer monitor or printed product to install.
- Give out your phone number to get an SMS message linking to a Market download or direct download of the APK (installer) file.
If you've pecked around in the Market, you know there can be a lot of misleading entries there. Some categories—notepads, calendars, widgets of all kinds—are just crowded with enthusiastic developers. Others are sad attempts at coattail-riding. When you do find the app you want, the Market mostly provides some developer-provided details and a big Install button. You can browse around the Market for the top paid and free apps and games, but it's a pretty narrow space to try and roam around in.
If you're running Android 2.2, you can update all your applications at once from the Downloads tab in the Market. There's no equivalent action for installing or removing multiple apps. There's also no means of sharing apps with your friends, other than just telling them to look it up on their own Market. And while Google does back up a list of your installed apps on their servers, so you can theoretically wipe your phone and start over at any time, I've found it pretty inconsistent on both my own phone, and a friend's I helped wipe clean.
Head over to AppBrain.com and get an account. You can simply use the same Google credentials you synced your Android phone to as your authorisation.
Download the AppBrain App Market, either from the Market or using the QR code at left (with an app like Barcode Scanner). This might be the last time you have to fiddle with the Market for a bit. After it's installed, launch it. You'll see something like the screen below.
Hit the "Manage & Sync" option. Give it a few seconds to run through your phone and compile your apps. You'll then be prompted to enter the same Google credentials you entered on the site. Once that's done, you're synced up. Now to add the not-so-secret sauce: Fast Web Install. Search and install it from the Market, or use the QR code at left.
Open Fast Web Installer, and click the single button to authorise it. If you already have AppBrain installed on your phone, it should be just a few seconds, then you're good to go. Now you've got a near-instant installation experience on your phone. You may need to re-authorise Fast Web Install from time to time, or occasionally if you restart your phone, but otherwise, you're almost always synced to AppBrain.
Searching and Browsing AppBrain
As you might imagine, searching out the 100,000+ Android apps on a full desktop/laptop browser is a lot less cramped than on the single-column Android Market. But with AppBrain and Fast Web Install, everything about the experience is better.
AppBrain has caught on among some of the more involved Android users, and it shows. The listings of "Hot" apps, recent or all-time, shows an awareness of good new stuff, useful tools, and clever games. There's the occasional oddity, to be sure, but it's a nice semi-curated batch. If you need to find something, AppBrain's search is fast, comprehensive, and fairly up to the minute. There's a filter you can turn on to eliminate what AppBrain considers spam apps—mostly, the "me-too" apps that duplicate functions, and the obvious wallpaper/ringtone cruft. It's a little more selective than the Market, too—searching for "Simplenote sync" on AppBrain gave me the two solid choices, and not an app that's just a simple notepad that named itself "simplenote." (Results pictured toward top of post)
When you click on an app you're interested in, you get all kinds of detail and helpful side data on it. You'll see links to blogs, news sites, and forums where the app has been discussed, a link to the developer's official page, a list of the permissions the app will ask for (which is, you know, kind of a good thing), and a "QR/MORE" that provides an instant QR code to pass along, and links for embedding or sharing.
Best of all, of course, is if you've installed AppBrain and Fast Web Install, you hit the Install button in the upper-left corner, and the app beams in near-instant fashion to your phone and installs, without your having to press a single button on your phone. Here's what it looks like, in (official) video form:
Manage Your Apps and Wallpaper
From your AppBrain account on the site, you can manage your main list of apps you actually have installed, but also maintain other lists—whether for keeping track of apps you might want later, or to keep public for recommendations. If you decide to go on an app-cleaning purge, you can check off multiple apps and uninstall them. They won't actually uninstall right away, but when you launch the AppBrain app on your phone and sync it, you can then uninstall apps in semi-automated, one-after-the-other fashion.
When you're signed into AppBrain, you'll also notice links on the right side of the "My Apps" section for setting and browsing wallpaper. The "set" is for folks who simply want to upload or point to a link for wallpaper. Browsing harnesses the same kind of group selection of wallpapers. A lot of them will be Android-focused and fairly nerdy, but you'll find the occasional stylish gem, too.