Bestsellers: Android’s Paid Market Is Alive, But Skews To Techie Tweaks

Media operators go on grumbling about their prospects for payment on the world’s most-used smartphone platform.

But a glance at Android’s app charts shows users will pay, and sometimes handsomely.

The current top paid Android app costs $14/£9.45 and has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times in the last month, according to Android Market.

That means the app, an alternative launcher skin called SPB Shell 3D, which was feature-listed inside Android Market this month, could have earned several million dollars for its developer, a subsidiary of Russian portal Yandex.

SPB’s fee is very high for a mobile app. Look across the top paid Android apps, however, and you’ll see a marked difference from the iPhone ecosystem. Aside from games, the chart is dominated by utility apps that extend Android’s core functionality.

They include keyboard replacements, alternative launchers, advanced backup utilities and even file explorers and ROM replacement tools that require root access. Imagine Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) ever letting iPhone users tinker with and re-mould iOS in this way.

This suggests multiple possible conclusions – there is a high level of dissatisfaction with pre-installed Android handset configurations, and/or the Market customer base is skewed toward techies who want to customise Android because they can.

Most of all, it shows that the healthiest part of the Android paid app economy besides games is in customisation. Nestling amongst this landscape, the most successful paid media operators are the TuneIn radio app, The Sun newspaper’s new Android edition and Shazam rival Soundhound.

The trickle of publishers finally embracing Android is now growing. Perhaps their emergence will change the nature of Android Market’s chart. But maybe these utilities will always retain greater prominence in Android Market than iTunes Store, since Android is intrinsically more customisable.