Geo-Restrictions: The Biggest Problem for Android in Non-Recognized/Supported Countries

Geo-restirctions for apps in the Android Market is something you won’t hear many people talk about probably because they live in recognized countries where these apps are available. Basically what this means is that when you search for it in the Market app on your Android device, you will not find any results to install. If you use the Android market on the web you get the “This item cannot be installed in your device’s country” message when trying to select your device. This hugely detracts me from trying to recommend Android to users. While I guess many will search for the apk file online and install it, I must stress that this can be a very dangerous thing as it can be malware that you are installing on your device. You must trust your source of applications, if it is not the developer distributing the file, it could be a modified apk installer with malware installed in it.

Some notable apps that are absent from the Market here in Brunei are

As stated in their known issues under “Can’t find app” section, it states the following:

Some users are reporting that they can’t find specific apps on Market. If you can’t find an application, first try editing your search terms; the publisher may have changed the name in the application.
If you’re still experiencing this issue, please make sure that the following conditions do not apply to you:

  • Priced applications availability: Priced apps are only available to buyers in these countries. If you are not in a buyer-supported country, you will be unable to view priced applications.
  • Location: You may only view the version of Market for your country. For example, UK users may only view the UK version of Android Market from their devices. If a developer has not targeted his app to your home country, you may be unable to view it.
  • Mobile service provider: In addition to targeting for location, a developer may also target their application to specific mobile service providers. If a developer is not targeting your mobile service provider, you will not be able to view the application.

From time to time, applications will become unavailable. Publishers might remove their applications from Android Market, or applications may also be removed for policy violations.

I believe this stems from the following section when developers upload their app into the Market. If the developer does unchecks “All locations” (it is checked by default), the list of countries will be shown and the app will not be available for any country not listed below, i.e. Brunei and others.

What can Google do? They can make Brunei (among other countries) as a supported/recognized country and I presume that would require some business discussions with Brunei banks/mobile carrier/ISP. As a supported country we would probably get access to paid apps as well, but I feel that is unlikely at the moment. Alternatively they can put another check box for “Other Countries” in the listing above so that developers can choose to exclude certain countries but include others.
What developers can do? Where possible make sure “All Locations” is checked, if not host their apk installers on their own site (something that WhatsApp! does)

For an Android fan I feel pretty annoyed about this restriction and is certainly an obstacle as I can’t fully recommend Android devices to people if they have to do ’round-about-things’ such as finding an unofficially distributed apk just to install Skype. Another big issue is with tablets that are able to run Flash but don’t include it out of the box: thus the tablet is neutered to iPad Flash-less status which is sad. I had a Flash apk and installed in on the Acer Iconia A500 but because it wasn’t the latest version it could not run the videos we tested. Also without a recognized country, you can’t even update apps that have been installed previously: we couldn’t update Flash via Market post-install.

There are workarounds as listed below but some aren’t pretty:

Workaround 1: Alternate Store
This is the easiest and I suggest to find a reputable app store such as Opera Mobile Store (I managed to download Skype from here, although it was an older version), but it doesn’t have all the apps I want and thus those need to be sourced from elsewhere. If you know of any other reputable stores that have apps like Skype, do let me know.

Workaround 2: Switch SIMs to a Supported Country
I’ve done this with a Australian Vodafone SIM, and I was able to download Skype. I may even use this to download apks and self-host them for all Android users (as long as I don’t get copyright take downs)

Workaround 3: Root and install Market Enabler
Root your device and install Market Enabler which should allow you to access the apps. I presume this does in software what switching SIMs does in hardware.

Workaround 4: Buy an iPhone / iPod Touch
Yes, I said it. It is a sad but true state of affairs that it is easier on iOS if you register with a US iTunes Account. The hardest thing of registration is is just using the right US address (use Google’s address as there are no taxes in their state according to @mfirdaus). The biggest issue is getting iTune gift cards, something I am still trying to find out for a reasonable price (Places in Brunei that sell them: AV, Incomm & QQeStore). But once that is all setup, it’s all easy sailing.

So Google, I hope you can sort out this problem or Android users will be severely limited in countries that aren’t recognized/supported and would prevent them from recommending Android unless they want to start pirating apps. App developers, please show some love for Android users and host the apks yourself.

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3 thoughts on “Geo-Restrictions: The Biggest Problem for Android in Non-Recognized/Supported Countries”

  1. Thanks for your write up, I was going to upgrade to an Android phone but with the massive limitations on apps unless you live in “The A list” countries, i shall go for an iphone instead

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