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Google's Idol-like Android challenge

Google's second Android Developer Challenge promises to send nine developers home with $100,000 in a contest that seems to borrow elements from "American Idol." A lucky 10th will pocket $250,000.

Android 1.5 on Google Ion
Android 1.5 on Google's brand-new 'Ion.' CNET/Photo by Stephen Shankland

To encourage gifted developers to give iPhone programming a rest, most mobile platforms have built app stores that lure with the promise of a cash-positive distribution. But not Google. It baits with cash.

Sure, Google installs and sells Android applications through its on-board Market, but a mobile platform with such a slim slice of the pie needs an infusion of fresh and original apps if it's to stay in the bake sale. Google's answer: the second Android Developer Challenge, or ADC2, as it's nicknamed.

This time, submissions will vie for popularity and 'wow factor' on the Android 1.5 operating system known as Cupcake. Announced Wednesday at Google I/O, the company's second annual developer-focused conference held in San Francisco, ADC2 will award three top prizes to applications in ten categories. The categories include gaming, social networking, media, and productivity. Google will also award an additional purse to the top three programs that cross-cut all categories. That's $250,000 for the one lucky development team considered the best in show, with second and third places for the best all-around app bringing its developers $150,000 and $125,000, respectively. First place in each category receives a cool $100,000 to pocket.

The twist in this year's competition is one right out of "American Idol." Anyone with an Android 1.5 device will be able to download, test, and rate every application in two rounds of judging. How will Google keep this contest from becoming one big geeky popularity row? By limiting users' voice to 45 percent of the vote and weighing in the opinion of official Google-chosen judges at a slight 55 percent majority.

Don't expect to see the winners, or even the apps, very soon. Google specs six months from the time the challenge begins until its November completion. This is quite a change from just two weeks ago, when Forbes said its Google contacts pronounced Google's ADC2 competition "still on hold" in response to user complaints about the contest's delay.

Google hasn't confirmed hard dates yet, but according to the fuzzy timeline, judging for the first round will begin in late August, with the polls closing in mid October. In mid-November, final judging ends and 30 teams will walk away, their virtual pockets stuffed with very real dollar bills.

See Google's announcement for more details on awards, categories, and eligibility.