Last week, a big headline was Google’s new “anti-fragmentation” stance. It’s going to be some time before their new position has any real impacts, since Android is now heavily in the wild and wildly out of control. While that’s happening, however, Amazon has made a big move addressing the other major challenge with Android—it’s app store—and the Amazon Appstore for Android is going to have a larger impact than people initially realize.
Android Market Problems
There’s no doubt that the Android Market highlights the problems of a fragmented platform. To see that in full effect, just read the reviews of almost any Android app (but especially the popular ones), and you’ll find the main complaints being about the app not working on a specific device and OS combination.
Fragmentation doesn’t address the Android Market problems as an app store though and it’s arguable that those are as important, if not more important, than fragmentation itself. The reason is while fragmentation deals with the getting developers buying into the platform, the Android Market is concerned with converting existing Android device owners into Android app consumers. Here is a quick list of the most critical issues:
Payment Mechanism Most people haven’t even heard of Google Checkout, let alone have a Google Checkout account. Compare that to the over 200 million credit cards on file via iTunes Accounts. Not offering other payment mechanisms is a huge barrier to drive paid downloads.
Curated Content Apple’s App Store has a series of finely curated featured lists. That’s the likely product of the App Store review process and the fact that the App Store Review Team literally touches every single app before it gets published. Meanwhile, the Android Market is still confusing to browse and lacks the same marketing prowess of what it means to be featured.
Familiar Branding The Android Market, like the Chrome Web Store, is outside of Google’s historical primary focus. For example, the interface for the reviews is unfamiliar compared to what consumers see in the App Store (which is similar to music reviews in iTunes). There’s also no real credibility or trust with Google in this context, as they are known more for services than content.
Enter the Amazon Appstore
A big reason that Amazon might eventually own the Android market (note the case) is that it knows how to sell content. As John Gruber notes, “Amazon knows how to sell digital content; Google doesn’t.”
Time and time again, Google displays an amazing ability to tackle and overcome huge technology challenges but it is ultimately a company run by engineers. Consider Google Search, Gmail, Google Docs, and all of its most successful consumer-facing products. They each consist of sparse interfaces but they are all for task-oriented products. The Android Market doesn’t fall into that model but a similar design philosophy has been applied.
When considering the pain points identified in the Android Market, Amazon has a distinct advantage in pushing paid downloads: 1) They have a huge amount of credits cards on file, since payment is facilitated through existing Amazon.com accounts. 2) They are much more hands-on about filtering and curating apps (e.g., they even have a free app of the day). 3) The app listings almost feel like Amazon product pages, complete with the now infamous Amazon customer review area. As you can see with these screenshots, Amazon’s initial effort of an app store already looks better than Google’s various iterations.
While Amazon may not be pursue its Blaze smartphone this summer, it is no stranger to developing hardware. As I alluded to previously, the Amazon tablet could be well on its way, providing Amazon something Google now wants: a unified hardware-software solution.
In the not so distant future, Amazon could become Apple’s largest mobile threat in the tablet arena. It could leverage its well-known brand, huge content catalog, cloud services, easy checkout, and an actual tablet to quickly surpass other Google partners. Dan Frommer doesn’t see Amazon going after the high-end of the market, leaving that to Apple, but as he writes, “there’s no reason Amazon couldn’t compete with the likes of Motorola, HTC, and Samsung in the mid-level Android tablet market.”