Why The Amazon App Store Is Revolutionary
When I heard that Amazon was building an app store for Android I was skeptical. I don’t know why, I’m about as big an Amazon fanboy as has ever existed. I’ve been buying everything I can from them (which today includes even basic toiletries and food) since probably 1999. I signed up for Prime shortly after it was introduced and have had it ever since. I love my Kindle so much that I’ve thought about arranging a wedding with it in Connecticut, the only state where marriage between a man and a gadget is legal.
Still, something about the idea of a secondary app store that you had to install through the primary app store (or, as it turns out, an even more confusing channel) just sounded a little too goofy to be true. You also have to allow side-loading of apps, which while not a problem for people like me isn’t something 95% of users have done. AT&T even blocks it entirely on their devices.
And, let’s be honest, Amazon doesn’t have a track record of making good-looking, highly functional products. Their website is still an eyesore to this day, even though it’s come a long way in the last few years. It’s got a lot of functional problems too. It often recommends to me things virtually identical to something I just bought. It has a link on the side to filter a search to only items that are eligible for Prime, but when you click it still many items that are ineligible remain. You shop at Amazon because it’s cheaper and easier than going to the store, more reliable than finding things from various merchants through Google Shopping, and has excellent customer service. You don’t shop there because it’s good looking, but good looking sells mobile apps.
Last week it launched and I have to say I was dead wrong. Amazon knocked this one out of the park. It had never occurred to me just how much better than Google’s app market Amazon’s could be. I think Amazon’s is even better than Apple’s. It’s the best looking and most usable Amazon product I’ve ever seen by far.
I’ve written before on my company’s blog about why the Android Market sucks. I don’t really believe that it’s going to improve very much. I think Google has a culture of organizational arrogance and while they admit they could be doing a better job on the app market, they don’t realize how much better and they have no idea why. They think their store is an 8 out of 10 and needs to be a 10, when really it’s a 2. I could go on about this for hours, but there’s no sense flogging a dead horse.
The Amazon market is a clear winner for Android’s many constituents. First there are customers. When I installed the Amazon App Store, which has a small fraction of the apps the Google App Market does, I was immediately struck by how many high production-value games there were. I never knew it because I never saw any of them in the Google store. That store just has the same crappy tower defense game, Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, and Paper Toss day in and day out.
Carriers too stand to gain. From my conversation with a Google employee at GDC, I’m pretty sure that carriers are getting a chunk of the revenue from app markets on all smartphone OSes, including iOS. A better market means more revenue for them plain and simple, both from apps and handset sales. I expect to see Amazon make long-term deals with carriers to get OEMs to install their market by default on devices.
OEMs will benefit by gaining freedom. While Android is an open source OS, the most important app on it, the App Market, is not. It’s proprietary and owned by Google. The App Market has so far been Google’s method of controlling OEMs. For instance in future versions of Android, Google is believed to be mandating that OEMs use the native Android UI by default. Motorola, Samsung, and HTC all have their own UIs right now that they might not be wanting to part with since Android’s stock one is so poor.
With a viable second app store Google loses a good portion of its hold on OEMs. A smartphone OS without an app market is worthless. But if Amazon’s becomes a viable competitor (and it probably is already) then OEMs can tell Google where to stick their app market.
Moreover, they’re now possibly no longer even stuck with Android at all. If Amazon manages to get all of the big players to participate in their App Store, then all any upstart OS has to do is make a deal with Amazon and ensure that Android apps can run on their ecosystem. The RIM Playbook is proving that this is quite possible technically. You’ll never get Google Market on a Blackberry OS (not without lawsuits flying) but you might get the Amazon App Store full of Android apps.
The biggest winners, though, will be developers. Right now despite the fact that Android is a larger ecosystem than iOS, the poor App Market has held it back from seeing much development. iOS apps are simply outselling Android by an order of magnitude. I saw an article last week about something like 8 apps that have made over a million dollars on Android. There will probably be 8 apps that pull in that much revenue today on iOS.
Even Google wins, though they won’t see it that way. If they’re getting little to no revenue from the App Market themselves, which I suspect is the case, they’d be far better off letting a third party handle it. They’re better off having a vibrant app ecosystem on Android coming from a market they don’t control than a crappy ecosystem from one they do. At the end of the day its really apps that sell these phones. Apple’s slogan isn’t “there’s probably a website that could accomplish that” for a reason.
I’ll go ahead and make the bold claim that the Amazon App Store will be the primary driver of app sales on Android within a year. This is the most important thing to happen to smartphones since the original App Store on iOS.