If you own an Android smartphone or tablet device, a seemingly unending selection of mobile applications is at your fingertips thanks to Google's Android Market.
The Android Market and its more than 160,000 applications can, however, seem unwieldy and intimidating if you're not familiar with the ins and outs of Google's official software shop.
But you're in luck: The following ten Android Market tips and tricks offer insights on how to manage, organise and remove Market apps; stay up to date on the latest the Market has to offer, without ever even launching the store; find the best apps for you; and much more.
Keep moving for specifics. And also check out my new Android Super Guide for more how-tos, tips and tricks and Android tutorials.
(Note: The following tips and tricks were performed on a Motorola Atrix 4G smartphone running Android v2.2.1, and though all of them should apply to the majority of new Android devices, some may differ slightly based on your specific device and OS version.)
1) Manage Android Market software updates
Google makes it relatively easy to ensure your Android Market software stays up to date. A number of options exist so you can automatically update applications whenever a new build is available or decide on your own when, or if, you want to update a specific app.
To set individual applications to automatically update on their own, launch the Android Market then hit your device's Menu key and choose My Apps from the on-screen options. Next, navigate to the application you want to auto-update and select it. On the following screen, fill in the check-box next to Allow automatic updating. The software will now update on its own whenever a new build becomes available.
Another way to ensure you always know when a new Android Market app-update is available is to set the Market to notify you of any new updates via an update icon in your Android status bar. To set the Android Market to notify you of new app-updates, launch the Market and again hit your device's Menu key, but this time choose Settings from the on-screen options. Click the Notify me drop-down menu to display more options, then make sure the circle next to Notify Me is filled in.
You can also manually check for new software updates at any time by visiting your Android Market My Apps page. If updates are available, they'll appear atop all of your installed apps.
2) Android Market home-screen widget
One great way to stay on top of the most popular or latest apps the Android Market has to offer is by using the Market home-screen widget. This widget displays a constant stream of new, noteworthy and/or popular apps, and you never have to actually open the Market to see them since the widget sits on one of your Android home screens.
To enable the Android Market home-screen widget, simply navigate to a home screen with some open space, then press and hold your display for a second or two until a menu pops up. Next, choose the Android widgets option from the menu, and then scroll down to and select Market. The Android Market widget will then appear on your home screen.
3) Before buying Android Market apps, do your research
Thanks to an easy-to-navigate ratings and review system, the Android Market makes it fairly simple to read up on applications before your download or purchase them to determine which apps are getting the most positive feedback - and which downloads are not so well received.
Before you buy or download an application, it's a good idea to search around a bit for similar or alternatives apps that may serve the same purpose, and then see which of those apps have the highest ratings.
When looking at star-ratings in the Android Market, you should also take into account how many individual users have submitted ratings. For example, if one application has a five-star rating out of five possible stars, but only ten users have rated it, one of whom gave the application a one-star rating, it might be wise to go with another application that has only a four-star rating, but with 100 total user-ratings.
In addition to star-ratings, the Android Market lets users submit short, written reviews. Before downloading or purchasing an app, I also suggest you read through the review to see if anything jumps out at you. You might notice that while the app seems to work well for the majority of users, Android owners with your specific device or OS version may be having issues, for instance. Or you might learn that the app works great, but only if you've "rooted" your handheld.
You may also want to check out apps of interest on third-party app stores to see if they're cheaper ... or maybe even free, as could be the case with Amazon's Appstore for Android, which offers a different paid app for free each day.
4) Regularly review Android Market apps, good and bad
Just as it's a great idea to read reviews of applications on the Android Market before downloading, it's also good practice to rate and review any applications you spend significant time with, so other users can benefit from your feedback.
If you love an application, give it a good rating and explain in the review section why you appreciate it. If you're unsatisfied with a piece of Market software, take the time to write a review that details your specific complaints. Don't just rant and rave; inappropriate negative feedback doesn't help anyone but constructive criticism can help other users and the app-developers.
Leaving your device model at the end of your review can also be valuable to Market customers so they can tell whether or not other users with the same Android devices had good or bad luck with specific apps.
5) Get custom Android Market app recommendations with AppBrain
The AppBrain App Market is a third-party Android app store of sorts, but it still uses Google's official Android Market to supply software. What sets AppBrain apart from the Market is that you can quickly and easily connect with friends and colleagues to see what applications they're using at a given time, and find apps you may have otherwise missed.
AppBrain also provides a cool app-recommendation engine based on the software currently installed on your device and what other similar users have installed on their Android handsets.
6) Support Android Market developers who create quality apps
Many popular Android applications come in free, or "lite", and full, paid versions. Sometimes the paid apps offer significantly more features and functionality. And other times the paid versions offer only slightly more features or a streamlined interface, etc, and you're really just paying to support the developers' efforts.
Many paid applications sell for only a dollar or two - less than the price of a cup of coffee. If you regularly use a free or lite version of an Android Market app, consider upgrading to the full version to show the developers that you appreciate their work and to help support them so they can continue creating great Android software.
7) Organise Android Market software
A ton of great applications are available through Google's Android Market, but it pays to be somewhat selective about the applications you download and install - or at least to organise all of your software - so you can easily find an app when you need it.
Two great ways to organise your Android Market software: dedicating home-screen panels to specific types of apps; and using folders.
If you use one home-screen panel for all your social networking apps, such as Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc, you'll always know where to look for those apps. To move a specific app to a home screen panel, navigate to the panel to which you want to add the app, and then jump over to your "All Apps" page - here all of your Android software is listed in alphabetical order. Then just hold your finger on an app you wish to move, and drop it on the home-screen panel that appears after a second or two.
To create a home-screen folder for specific types of Android apps, find some empty space on a home-screen panel, hold your finger on the display for a couple of seconds, and then choose Folders from the on-screen options.
8) Remove unused apps directly from the Android Market
Multiple methods exist to help you remove unwanted Android apps, but perhaps the easiest way is directly through the Android Market.
To remove an Android Market app, launch the Market, hit your device's Menu key and choose My Apps from the on-screen options. Then scroll down to the app you wish to remove and click it. On the following page, you'll see an option to Uninstall the app. Click the uninstall button, confirm your selection and then pick one of the on-screen options to tell Google why you decided to ditch that particular software.
9) Share favourite Android Market apps
When you find an application you really like on the Android Market, it's easy to share the software with friends, colleagues and/or social-network connections - it's also good "app karma", since a user who finds a great app through you will be more likely to share another quality download in the future.
To share an Android Market app, once again launch the Market, hit your device's Menu key and choose My Apps from the on-screen options. Find and select the app you want to share, and scroll down to the Sharing section of the My Apps listing. Click the Menu option, choose how you wish to share the software - via Twitter, Facebook, email or another application - and you're good to go.
10) Peruse Android Market apps via desktop browser
The Android Market mobile application is great for on-the-go browsing, but the desktop Android Market interface is much better suited for detailed browsing sessions or lengthy software exploration. You also get a better view of app screen-shots due to the larger display size.
If you have access to a desktop browser, you can visit Market.Android.com for a larger, easier-to-navigate market experience. And downloading Market apps to your device via the desktop interface is as simple as logging in and clicking an Install button, which immediately sends the software to your Android device.
You can also access and modify all of your Android Market account settings via the desktop interface.