Google has begun accepting paid applications into its Android Market mobile app store — a move that lays the groundwork for potentially following Apple’s lead in turning smartphone applications into a sizable moneymaker.
Initially, the Android Market offered only free applications. Now, however, the search giant confirmed plans to next week begin selling applications through Android Market after rumors began circulating earlier this week.
Users of the Android-based T-Mobile G1 smartphone can expect to see the paid apps available starting in the middle of next week, according to a Google post on a blog for Android developers. The search giant said Google Checkout will serve as the payment and billing mechanism for the service.
The company started accepting paid applications from developers today, though it is limiting the program to U.S. and U.K. developers for the time being. Germany, Austria, Netherlands, France and Spain are slated to be added by the end of March.
The move puts Google more closely into competition for developers with Apple, and in particular, the PC maker’s popular App Store for its iPhone and iPod Touch.
Part of that motivation may stem from the fact that downloads at Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) App Store are off the chart. During last month’s earning’s call, Apple’s CFO, Peter Oppenheimer, said there are 15,000 apps on the iPhone App Store, and downloads have surpassed 500 million.
App Store frenzy
The App Store concept has caught the attention of all the big mobile providers. In October, BlackBerry maker RIM unveiled plans for an App Store of its own, starting in March.
In mid-December, Palm launched its own mobile storefront, the Palm Software Store. The company’s storefront opened with 5,000 applications for over 25 existing Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) devices, with about 1,000 of the applications available for free.
The next month, the Treo manufacturer gave a first look at its upcoming smartphone, the Pre, which will hinge heavily on a sleek design, an iPhone-like touchscreen — and downloadable apps.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is also thought to be weighing an Apple-like storefront for mobile downloads. In fall, it began dropping hints about launching an App Store-like effort.
The software colossus is expected to detail some of its upcoming mobile efforts — including, potentially, a mobile storefront — during next week’s GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.