Android has come a long way in its time. One of the biggest points of growth has been Android Market, which faced rebranding yesterday evening and is now simply called "Android Apps" in the Google Play store. It has undergone several face lifts over the last year alone and a rapidly increasing number of apps – from a measly couple thousand to over 400,000 – in just a few short years.
Back in December of 2010, Google pushed one of the biggest updates to Android Market that we had ever seen. It completely changed the interface and introduced a better, more organized, tabbed layout.
But the biggest and most controversial piece of that specific update is one that many have long forgotten. Prior to Google pushing the update, the return window for purchasing an application was 24 hours. From the time you purchased an app until 24 hours later, you could get your money back. That gave you enough time to download the application, download any additional packages, work around any Wi-Fi problems, toy around with the app or game, cozy yourself up to it and decide whether you loved or hated it.
All was well in the world. However, that very update was the one where Google pulled a fast one on us and changed the application return windows to a laughable 15 minutes.
That said, they didn't do this without cause. Application piracy was a quickly growing issue at the time. It was easy for people to purchase an app, play with it for a while, backup the APK file and return it; thus they would get a paid application for free. Oh, how simple things were back then.
Now there are several safeguards in place. Of course, 15 minutes is a lot less time than 24 hours. Unless you already know what you're doing, 15 minutes isn't nearly enough time for most people to research and learn how to backup an application. Plus, several developers perform license checks which will reject use of the application unless it has successfully been purchased through your Google account.
I understand why Google shortened the window. But, effectively, it's no different than a brick and mortar store only giving you until end of day to return an item. In most cases, that would hardly give you enough time for you to get off of work, purchase an item, take it home and see if it's working or not. If you were to unbox a broken TV and get to the store as the doors are being locked, you're stuck with a broken TV.
With the way most "Android Apps" in Google Play work, things aren't all that different when buying applications. And the worst part? Much like loss prevention and additional safeguards aren't fool proof in retail, shortening the return window and performing license checks only stops piracy to an extent. People are clever and will go through a lot of trouble just to save a buck.
Currently, what this return window affects the most is those buying Android games. You buy a game that is only, say, 10MB in Android Market Play. (It will never feel right saying that.) After that install finishes, the 15-minute return window kicks in. You launch the app and it says you have an additional 300MB to download. If that download takes over 15 minutes to complete (which often happens, somehow) or fails, you're stuck with that app ... forever. (This has happened to me several times now.) Of course, you can return before the 15 minutes is up if you don't think the download will finish in time, but that isn't the point. This is something consumers shouldn't have to stress over. It makes the whole experience stressful and aggravating.
On Monday, though, before the switch to Google Play, Google bumped the maximum application size to 4GB. The maximum size for the APK file is still 50MB, but Google will now offer hosting for up to 4GB of additional packages. They noted that most newer devices will download the game, in full, before ever launching the game. With older devices, however, the user may need to launch the application before the additional packets will download. And the clock on the 15-minute return window will not start ticking until the last packed finishes downloading.
All is well, right? Hardly.
While Google will now offer hosting, alleviating that burden from third-party developers, some developers may take their time in switching over to new hosting. Others may prefer to host their own files anyway.
For the sake of this article, though, let's assume every developer with a game or application over 50MB, who needs additional hosting, decides to use Google's free hosting. Even then, the 15-minute return window isn't nearly enough time to know whether an application will do everything you need it to. For games, you can usually tell whether you like the game within a couple minutes. But what if you reach a certain point halfway through the game and it continually crashes? What if you stick with an expensive application because you think it has all the functionality you needed only to learn it's missing one key feature?
There is obviously no way to anticipate all of the things that can go wrong when buying an application or game. But as someone who buys a ton (probably way too many) applications, I've run into issues several times now. It all could have been avoided had the window been just a little longer. Sure, it's still better than no return window, like on iOS. But if they're going to offer a return window at all, they should at least offer one that's worth mentioning. A 30-minute window would be much better. Preferably, I would like to see a full hour, maybe two. But 15 minutes just isn't enough.