This week sees the US launch of a new marketplace for Android apps: the Amazon Appstore.
Naomi Bush wrote about the new marketplace, and what it might mean for you, last month. Let’s take another look at it now that it’s up and running.
The Appstore doesn’t seem to have a simple URL to access it; the shortest I can get it down to is http://www.amazon.com/mobile-apps/b?node=2350149011 (no, http://www.amazon.com/mobile-apps/ does not work). This doesn’t really matter, of course, because it’s accessible directly from the front page of Amazon. Does anyone go straight to the URL for Amazon’s Kitchen and Home department when looking to buy a new toaster? Same thing here.
A few apps are exclusive to the Appstore, including two Angry Birds games: Angry Birds Rio (a spin-off based on the new movie Rio), and a $0.99 paid version of the original Angry Birds (the Android Market only has a free, ad-supported version). This is interesting, given Angry Birds’s creator Peter Vesterbacka’s statement that “paid content just doesn’t work on Android.” Has Amazon changed his mind on that?
You’ll notice the slogan “A paid app for free. Every day” plastered all over the Appstore. This is one of Amazon’s big selling points, presumably to help encourage people to check the site out as an alternative to the familiar Android Market. It’ll be interesting to see the quality of these temporarily-free apps; at time of writing, the current paid app has only a three-star rating.
Strengths over the Market
It is ironic that in a Market created by the top search engine company, it is so hard to find apps matching certain criteria. But then, Google Shopper is hardly the best online retail service either.
Amazon, of course, has a lot more experience here — primarily with physical goods, true, but more recently with MP3s and ebooks and downloadable movies. They’re no stranger to selling digital goods, and it looks like they’re applying everything they know about running a great online store to their new app marketplace.
The Amazon Appstore lets you sort apps by price, by ratings, or by sales; filter by customer review scores, category, release date, and price; and add apps to your wishlist if you don’t have the cash at the moment (or if you’re trying to cut down on impulse spending) — all familiar features from the other Amazon departments.
You’ll also find that the reviews are of higher quality on Amazon. Android Market displays the most recent reviews first, and these are often only a sentence long, and frequently nonsensical, but Amazon’s reviews can be voted on by other users, so that the more useful ones rise to the top. You can also see a breakdown of the star ratings, so that you can tell whether a 3-star app has mostly 3-star ratings (implying that people generally found it mediocre), or all 1-stars and 5-stars (implying that some hated it, but some absolutely loved it).
There’s also a lot of room for discussion about each app: every review can be commented on, in case a reader wants more clarity, or the developer wants to make a correction, and every app has its own product forum that allows for more general chatter. Google doesn’t offer this at all.
At the moment, the Appstore is only available to customers in the USA. Obviously that will change, though we don’t know then, but it’s still an irritation to those of us in other countries. I hope we don’t find that some apps are only available in certain countries, as we’ve seen happen with Amazon ebooks and Kindle apps.
A bigger weakness is that if your phone can’t “sideload” apps (i.e. it is restricted in where it is allowed to install apps from), then you can’t use the Appstore. AT&T customers: you’re out of luck; AT&T does enforce exactly this type of restriction, so you’re stuck with their approved marketplaces. Amazon and AT&T are working to get around this, but there’s no timeframe for when this will happen. (If you’re on AT&T, sign up here to be notified when the restriction is lifted.)
Also, you aren’t able to download any apps unless you have a credit or debit card linked to your Amazon account. Yes, that includes paid apps that you want to buy with a gift card, and even totally free apps. Plus, all sales are final: no refunds allowed, not even within a 15-minute window.
Time will tell whether the Amazon Appstore becomes a major Android app marketplace (fragmenting the ecosystem just that bit more) or simply a second-rate alternative for those that can’t, or won’t, use the Android Market.
I believe that if the store’s not a success in itself, it’ll be because Google decides to implement its better ideas (sorting, filtering, reviews) into the official Market. Either way, we consumers win.