Google owes its 80 percent dominance of the smartphone market to the culture of freedom and openness that are central to Android. But the number of open source apps that have been abandoned in favor of closed-source, proprietary Google apps and the Play Store’s increasingly tight guidelines on apps leave one with the sense that Google has forgotten the project’s roots.
The release of the first generation iPhone prompted a decisive response from Google: the Android Open Source Project. Recalling Android founder Andy Rubin’s pitch, Vic Gundotra — who had just joined Google after leaving Microsoft — paraphrased, “If Google did not act, we faced a Draconian future, a future where one man, one company, one device, one carrier would be our only choice.” It’s only been seven years, but the result is about as demoralizing as watching the Apple commercial announcing the first Macintosh computer on a device that can’t be modified without voiding its warranty.
Despite the changes, the $12 million that the Play Store brings in daily from its top 200 apps is not something a developer would scoff at. Sean Percival, a venture partner with the seed investor firm 500 Startups in Silicon Valley, described an Android app’s availability in the Play Store as critical to its success.
“The Play Store, like Apple’s App Store, is a huge distribution channel,” he said. “Getting rejected would make it difficult for you to scale.”
Unfortunately, since its 2012 rebranding as a superstore of digital content that includes music, films, books and apps, the Play Store’s restrictions on content have hit developers hard. For developers that do not conform to Google’s idea of appropriate content, there are three options: conform, develop for mobile web, or try an alternative app store. Most apps try to conform, seeing the failure to get into Play as the end of the road. For those in a niche that makes conforming impossible — such as Mixxxer, an NC-17 version of Tinder — optimizing for mobile browsers is much easier, but an increasing number of developers are turning to alternative markets. And not without reason: the adult app store MiKandi has been downloaded on 4.5 million devices.
When I shared this information with Percival, he expressed surprise.
MiKandi may have less users than the Play Store, but it also has substantially less apps — 12,000 compared to 1,310,668. This, according to Percival, presents an immense opportunity for anyone with a well-designed adult product. Of course, that’s the catch — in order to be accepted by MiKandi, an app has to be adult in nature to ensure that dissemination through other markets doesn’t inadvertently introduce underage users into an app environment.
That said, MiKandi doesn’t turn away apps that have been accepted into the Play Store, which in turn allows developers to sell their apps on other markets. The app Down, previously known as Bang With Friends, is working both: one can find it on Play Store as well as on MiKandi. While on the Play store Down is filtered due to its “High Maturity” rating, on MiKandi, it’s been featured as a hot social app.
Without a doubt, apps have potential to become a big fish in the smaller pond that is MiKandi. Right now the adult apps market is the same as the sex toy market was before Jimmyjane proved that vibrators could be luxury items. While there are a number of apps that have capitalized on social networks’ bans on adult content, such as VinePorn and iXtagram, the field is wide open for something innovative that disrupts the way we think about adult content.
What it feels like for a dev
For developers, getting set up on MiKandi is similar to doing so on the Play Store. After registering through MiKandi’s developer portal, a developer uploads their Android application package file (APK) and prepares their store listing with screenshots and descriptions. If the app is free, that’s all that’s necessary. If it isn’t free, a developer has to submit additional information: company name or first and last legal name, mailing address, and tax information.
Developers based in the United States submit a federal employer identification number or social security number, depending on whether the developer is a corporation or an individual, and non-U.S. developers and corporations submit a W8BEN form from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, to prove their foreign status, and to enable MiKandi to withhold taxes from developer profits if any are due, based on the treaty the U.S. has in place with a developer’s country.
The app then enters a review queue, where MiKandi staff checks to make sure everything is in order, and then the app is live.
An iPhone user, Percival expressed concern about ease of access for users. While it’s true that some carriers block third-party Android app stores, sideloading has made it easy to bypass these restrictions without having to root one’s device. With the increasing popularity of Amazon’s Appstore, which offers users a daily free app, more Android users than ever are taking the time to educate themselves about how to bypass restrictions.
Percival also pointed out that Android’s popularity makes it a target for malware authors, and because individual handset makers need to test and adapt their products every time Android releases a software update, a lot of users are left unnecessarily exposed. He’s not wrong — according to the Juniper Networks Mobile Threat Center, 77 percent of Android malware last year would have been eliminated if users had updated their Android devices to Jelly Bean (Android 4.2). At the time the survey was compiled, most Android users were still running Gingerbread (Android 2.3.3). The first line of defense for Android users is to install software updates and security patches as soon as they are released and to make sure that they have an antivirus program installed — whether they purchase apps exclusively from Play or shop on third-party Android stores.
The reputation problem that malware presents to all third-party app stores applies doubly for MiKandi because of the association of pornography with malware. It is a valid concern, and something that MiKandi will have to focus on if it means to take a bigger share of the market.
Currently, MiKandi parses every Android app package (APK) to determine the permissions an app requires. Like on Play, when you select an app on MiKandi, a pop-up appears before installation, explaining what the app plans to access (e.g., location, network communication, storage, etc.). Additional security measures to detect executables, API calls and commands in apps would round out a strong defense against malware — as would a strategic partnership with security management companies like Kaspersky or OPSWAT.
Despite these concerns, however, MiKandi sees an average of 500,000 downloads every month, meaning it is still very much a viable option for developers looking to apply their talents to the realm of adult.
The small print
As mentioned, MiKandi is similar to the Play Store in terms of set-up, and both offer developer tools for free, but things diverge from that point. For example, while the Play Store requires that developers who want to sell apps or offer in-app purchases to users be from a “supported location,” MiKandi places no location limitations on developers, offering monetization options to the world. Beyond being able to sell apps on the market, other monetization options include in-app purchases and access to advertising networks.
Like Amazon’s Appstore, MiKandi uses a virtual currency in its store and apps. Called MiKandi Gold, the adult market’s virtual currency is an elegant solution to the discriminatory attitudes of payment processors and banks, which see anything related to adult content as indicative of fraudulent activity. Citing the porn industry’s track record of reversed transfers (called chargebacks), processors charge adult businesses more per transaction than they do mainstream companies. Most adult companies accept the extra cost — passing as much as feasible to consumers — but when the products being purchased cost a few dollars or less, this model simply isn’t sustainable.
A virtual currency dramatically reduces the number of transactions for the store: users buy MiKandi Gold in bulk, reducing the number of transactions needed, and use the currency to buy apps and make in-app purchases. This means that all chargebacks are handled by MiKandi so developers don’t have to deal with user payment problems, like many developers have experienced on the Play Store.
The Play Store uses Google Wallet Merchant Center to make payments to a developer’s chosen bank account on the 15th of every month and a number of countries are limited to payment via wire transfer, which may carry fees ranging from a few dollars to $50, or more. Additionally, wire transfers require that developers meet the minimum amount of $100 before they are eligible for a payout.
Somewhat similarly, all developers on MiKandi must meet the payout threshold of $100 before they’re eligible for compensation. Mikandi pays international developers by check (at no cost) or through the global payment system Payoneer. U.S.-based developers can receive payments by check (again, at no cost) or wire. Mikandi’s bank imposes a $40 fee for wire transfers, but the cost can be mitigated by setting a higher payout threshold with the adult market. The payout schedule for MiKandi is 30 days after the end of the month.
The wire transfer payout fees that MiKandi imposes even out domestically when one takes into account the Play Store’s one-time $25 developer fee. But by far, the biggest financial difference between the two stores is that MiKandi takes a 35 percent cut of the revenues made by apps, while the Play Store takes only 30 percent.
That’s a big cut. Then again, MiKandi will never impose arbitrary content guidelines on apps or slap a ratings on them to filter them out of search results. In fact, it’s highly likely that MiKandi will feature an app if its developer shoots them an e-mail explaining why they think users would love it. That’s the thing about smaller niche stores — humans still read e-mails and interact with both developers and end-users.