For most owners of an Android device, finding good apps that work for them is an ongoing and often frustrating process. There are more than 1.3 million apps alone in the online Google Play store, and sorting through them all is impossible.
Google doesn't make it easy. The Play Store interface is boxy, uninformative, and clumsy to navigate. Further, categories are overly broad, and searches will leave you sorting through icon-heavy boxes of app slop.
All that is supposed to improve with a redesign of Google Play being rolled out to the masses as you read this (according to Android Headlines).
Based on Material Design, Google's ambitious cross-device and cross-platform UI makeover, the updated Google Play Store has just reached my devices. And while it looks nicer than the previous version, it doesn't appear that Google Play is any easier to navigate. Which in the long run really means lost value to Android owners.
Fortunately, there are at least a couple of ways you can get more out of Google Play.
One of them is to use AppBrain App Market, an app that enables Android users to more easily find what they need in Google Play and also helps users manage the apps on their devices and share them with friends.
AppBrain App Market is developed by Swiss Codemonkeys, which also offers apps for publishers and Android developers. Once you install and open the app, you can create an account by signing in with your Google, Facebook or Twitter credentials (Google seems to make the most sense, so that's what I did).
A dropdown menu on the top left gives users options to manage and sync their apps, to browse and sort apps by subject category, ratings, downloads and release date. You then can filter results for free, paid, new updated and reduced price.
The results are presented in a clean list form, as opposed to Google Play's (to my mind) distracting grid form. Tap on an app and you'll get all the information you'd get on Google Play, along with an install button that takes you to the Play download page.
But AppBrain App Market is even more useful on a desktop. Go to appbrain.com and sign in using the same social account you used on your Android devices. Now you're looking at an easy-to-navigate mobile apps management console.
At the top of the screen is a green button that says My Apps. Tap that and you're taken to a page with your profile on the left. You should see your device listed there. Tap that and you get a page listing all the Android apps on your device, along with an option to uninstall them. If you have more than one device (as I do) and they're synced, they'll all be listed there.
That page also will tell users how many apps they have on each device, as well as which percent are free and which are paid, as well as the total current monetary value of the paid apps.
Which gets to the other tool that will make the Google Play experience more rewarding for users: Google Opinion Rewards.
About 90% of downloaded mobile apps are free, and that percentage is expected to rise -- apparently, people rarely are willing to spend even half the amount they'd spend on a Starbucks run for an app that might pay for itself in two days.
I'm no different. Four of the 82 apps on my Nexus 7 tablet are paid apps, while only one of 110 on my HTC One cost me money (total: $17.15).
Part of this is digital economy conditioning -- we've all become accustomed to free -- and part of it is that people are hesitant to spend money on something if they're not sure they're going to use or even keep it. There are a lot of crappy applications out there.
But if you download Google Opinion Rewards, you have an opportunity to build up credits to use in Google Play merely by participating in brief surveys. You get credit for $1 for each survey. Google spaces them out to about once a week, but over time users will be able to download some of the paid apps they've been coveting without spending money.