Paid Apps Not Allowed; Google Develops Android Wear Workaround

Eric Z
Jul. 09 2014, 05:00PM EDT

Google goofed and now developers have to pay. As the first wave of Android Wear devices reach their new owners, they'll quickly discover a glitch prevents them from downloading paid apps from the Play Store. So much for making money selling apps for wearables?

Google updated the Play Store the first week of July to coincide with the launch of the first two Android Wear smartwatches. The Play Store now has a section just for Android Wear apps, which lets Android smartphone owners more easily shop for apps and install them on their new smartwatches. Only it doesn't work. Developers found an encryption bug that's blocking paid apps from being transferred via Bluetooth from the phone to the watch. In other words, Android Wear owners can download smartwatch apps to their phones but then can't install them on their wearables.

The issue involves the way applications are packaged. Android Wear apps have to be combined with a related smartphone app. Free apps are able to unwrap themselves and jump from the smartphone to the watch, but paid apps cannot for security and monetization reasons.

Since Google wants its developers to be happy, it developed a clunky workaround to sidestep the problem. (Google is working on a full fix that will be available later.) Developers who want to sell apps to smartwatch owners now have to follow a four-step process to make them compatible with the installation methodology.

"There are two ways to package your wearable app: use the 'wearApp' Gradle rule to package your wearable app or manually package the wearable app," Google explained in a blog post. "For paid apps, the workaround is to manually package your apps, … and you cannot use the 'wearApp' Gradle rule." If developers follow the steps outlined, their apps should install properly on Android Wear devices moving forward. Google didn't say how long it will take to properly fix the problem.

Despite stumbling out of the gate a bit, Android Wear represents the best possible avenue through which developers can target smartwatches and other wearable devices. The uptake of competing smartwatch platforms has been scattered and slow. Though smartwatch makers such as Pebble have solid developer programs, Android Wear has a lot of appeal thanks to its tight integration with Google's voice-controlled assistant.

The LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live are the first two Android Wear devices available. They can be ordered from the Play Store or picked up at select AT&T stores beginning later this week.

Eric Z I am a journalist who covers the mobile telecommunications industry. I freelance for Programmable Web and other online properties.

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