While it's easy slinging arrows at Apple for its closed and tightly-controlled iPhone App Store, there's something to be said for its security.
Google's Android operating system has long faced more complicated concerns with its much freer application approval process, its openness to side-loaded apps (installing apps via APK files that you receive through some source other than the Android Market), plus having users root the platform to take control over certain internal system processes.
The "unauthorized" use of apps was a concern that application developers repeatedly brought to Google's attention, the company said in a blog post. Copying the app to the SD card and then demanding a refund is only one method of abuse, though developers have likely seen them all.
In this mobile climate, the platform with the most or most popular apps can highly influence user perceptions, if not outright sway a person's decision about which smartphone to buy. It's therefore in the best interests of both Google and the developers to provide a more surefire method for protecting paid Market content, to ensure that developers get paid and want to continue supporting Android.
Enter Google's new licensing service, which Google hopes to phase in as a replacement for the current copy-protection scheme "over the next few months." The new mechanism runs in real-time, with a server receiving requests to verify that an app was legitimately purchased through the Android Market. (Developers can check out more of the technical specifics here.)
There are still outstanding questions that will either be addressed by Google, or by consumers' usage over time, like how the the verification process might hinder user flow (Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage comes to mind).
Joining the new copy-protection program is free for developers of paid applications running on Android 1.5 and up, though developers will have to use a tad more elbow grease in preparing their code. In addition, the new license server, which is operational now, won't be able to retroactively verify the premium apps already in the Android Market. It will, however, be able to weigh in on participating developers' apps going forward.