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Google's Android Market Store Faces New Threat from Amazon

When Google launched the Android mobile platform, it probably did't expect it to succeed as wildly, and as quickly, as it has. One big reason for its meteoric rise to popularity that even eclipses the iPhone is its open nature.

Instead of strictly controlling the manufacture of the hardware and software, the way Apple does, Android allows pretty much anyone to make an Android phone, and almost anyone can build an app for any Android phone. That has led to multiple Android phones from multiple vendors, giving consumers much greater choice; that choice is the key to Android's ascendancy.

Now, Google is starting to experience the downside of its open philosophy in the form of app stores that will compete directly with its own Android Market. First, Verizon announced V CAST Apps, for Verizon-branded phones like the Incredible, Droid 1 and Droid X. Now comes word that Internet superstore Amazon.com is opening its own Android app store.

TechCrunch was apparently the first site to publish the rumors about the Amazon app store. Amazon has yet to confirm or deny rumors; when this siterequested a comment on the alleged store, an Amazon spokesperson responded: "We don't comment on rumors and speculation." However, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that a store is coming: A number of developers have reported being contacted by Amazon about an app store, and the Web site Slashgear purports to have received a copy of Amazon's app store distribution agreement.

If the agreement is genuine, it gives a lot of insight into Amazon's view of what a mobile app store should be. To begin with, it will split profits in the customary way, with 70 percent of profits going to the developer.

In a drastic departure from the Android Market, however, Amazon wants much greater control over the apps, including a number of requirements which may raise the ire of developers:

  • There's an annual $99 developer fee, although Amazon is waiving the fee for the first year, according to the site AndroidGuys.
  • Amazon will require apps to include its digital rights management (DRM) code.
  • Support terms. Amazon will require developers to respond to user complaints within a specified time period, including within 24 hours for issues Amazon deems "critical."
  • Amazon wants ultimate authority of pricing and features. "We have sole discretion to determine all features and operations of this program and to set the retail price and other terms on which we sell Apps," states the alleged agreement in Section 5.

Some developers are rejecting Amazon's terms as too severe. One developer who identifies himself as "Josh" on an AndroidGuys thread said "They want me to give them my apps, lace them with DRM and set whatever price they want on it. Does that make me the developer and publisher or just the underpaid technical support? Price controle [sic] is a huge part of mobile app marketing/sales."

On the same thread, "Rootko" said, "I will not join the Amazon. I think they ask for too much. I'm tired of creating new and new versions of my apps every time new Market raises. Unless Amazon's market is preloaded on most of the phones, I'm out."

Another developer, "RCK", agreed. "We've also received the email to sign up Amazon store but we've decided to give up. Not because of the $99 but of the price controlling and the 24h-to-5 days delay allowed to provide support. Amazon requires some kind of technical support that any small company cannot provide. It looks like SLA. Developing Android applications costs money. Supporting several markets costs money too. How much do you earn? Not enough to accept constraints from Amazon."

Despite these negative sentiments, an Amazon app store could have the effect of helping Google upgrade the Android Market. The Market has been a frequent target of developer and user anger for its clumsy handling of payments, user-unfriendliness and lack of sophistication and polish. Among the complaints are that apps sometimes disappear and reappear for no reason; there have been incorrect download counts for apps, which affect developer payments; and the Android OS sometimes hangs in the middle of an app download.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.

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