Why the Amazon Android AppStore is a crock

Brace yourself, you're about to be 1-clicked

Amazon App Store

The Amazon Android AppStore isn't just a nice repository of Android business, gaming, and lifestyle applications, it's a new nozzle on the Amazon wallet-and-purse vacuum cleaner. Just to get in the store, you have to sign up with a credit source. Imagine walking into a Target department store and having the security guard ask if you have any money, then requiring you to reveal it before you can walk inside -- even to browse. Shoppers would revolt. Amazon, however, is betting that we won't -- even though what they're asking for is tantamount to the same show-us-the-money-first action.

Yes, there are free games inside the Amazon Android AppStore. One of the hooks that Amazon used successfully to entice Android users inside was to put an ad link into the free version of Roxio's Angry Birds to a release of the latest version, Angry Birds Rio, before the Google Market had it available in a free form. Many people, like me, were enticed. Then I touched the link to the store. That's when the trouble began. I was about to be (in an Amazon-patented move) 1-Clicked.

The sign-up process requires one to have a funding source, meaning a credit card. You need to give all the details. Barring that, you're barred. No free, or even paid relationship with Amazon in this process. Show them the money or you can't even window shop.

Amazon is a huge retailing machine, deftly skirting local sales taxes, that is trying to be very convenient for you to purchase everything from Gruyere cheese to spark plugs. They're especially adept at marketing cloud computing resources. But they're not good at everything. The Amazon Android App Store is significantly smaller than the Google Market. It can be argued that the Google Market also charges for, and gleefully accepts credit cards. That's true. However, you can get as many free apps as you want without revealing credit card information at all. You get to browse for free, without showing any cash or hovering it near a vacuum cleaner.

An "app store" (the very name is litigious; Apple is trying to claim it as a trademark) is a marketplace for applications, typically for smartphones. Apple championed the idea of software retailing ecosystems as an evolution of iTunes. The iPhone is now nearly half of Apple's revenue, and the very largest part of applications for the iPhones come through the iTunes store as a distribution channel. Apple makes a commission from each application, as does Google and Amazon.

Inside an app store -- let's take Apple's, for example -- is a repository of applications divided into categories and "Top 25" selections. Apps can be free, often sponsored by ads, or paid versions which generally are bereft of ads. You'll need some kind of logon to obtain software -- but ultimately you don't need to sign up with a credit card or credit source until you actually buy something. Other apps ask for donations, or are just plain free, as in beer. Developers ought to be able to determine the sales model they like: paid, subsidized by advertising, or here-ya-go-free. Amazon doesn't quite do that.

Amazon wants the applications you buy to be successful. For Amazon. Before a developer even "signs up" for the AppStore, they must submit to great fealty:

The Distribution Agreement sets forth our rights related to any product information you post or submit through the Portal. For other information and materials you post or otherwise provide to Amazon related to the Portal (a "Submission"), you grant Amazon and its affiliates a non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable license to (1) use, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, adapt, modify, translate, reformat and create derivative works of your Submission, each in connection with the Portal and the Appstore Program, and (2) sublicense these rights, to the maximum extent permitted by applicable law. Amazon will not pay you for your Submission and may remove your Submission at any time. For each Submission you provide, you represent that you have all rights necessary for you to grant us the rights provided in this section.

You acknowledge that we will communicate with you primarily via email or by posting notices on the Portal. You agree that all agreements, notices, disclosures and any other communications that we provide to you electronically satisfy any legal requirements that such communications be in writing. To the maximum extent permitted by applicable law, Amazon may monitor any electronic communications you make in connection with the Portal and may disclose such information in the event it has a good faith reason to believe it is necessary for purposes of ensuring your compliance with this Agreement, and protecting the rights, property, and interests of Amazon or any third party.

Apple controls much of the advertising in the free ad scheme, but like the Google Market, they also vet their applications, try to keep porn and objectionable material out of the mix, and have rules about what kinds of applications (and app behavior) can be offered. The rules are tested constantly, as developers try to push the boundaries of what Apple and Google Market will accept. As a consumer, you can go outside of Apple's app store, but doing so is at your own risk. And Apple makes it downright difficult. By contrast, Google's Android operating system has a selection to explicitly permit getting applications from sources other than the Google Market. This is how the Amazon AppStore is enabled to become a potential application source for Android apps.

The Android AppStore is no benevolent cause célèbre on the part of Amazon. Their clear intention is to sign you up for an Amazon 1-Click Account, then use your phone as a data marketing tool. At the core of the problem is the end of privacy as you knew it. You're sacrificing it by using your smartphone. But you wanted Angry Birds Rio Free Version, right?

Android apps are otherwise easy to obtain. Google packs Google Market onto Android smartphone and tablet devices. You'll be confined there unless you use systems settings changes to allow "unknown" appstores to be offered as a choice. This allows choosing Amazon and other non-Google Market sources as places to allow apps. Indeed organizations can host their own in-house "app stores" or repositories with "approved" or corporate contractor-provided (and/or focused) applications for things like travel, supplies ordering, and so forth.

But to date, no one has created a big application store and said, show-me-the-money before you walk in -- until now. Certainly it's expected in any software store or market that if you want to buy an application, you'll need a funding source to do so. That source might be a standard (or gift) credit card, or another service. It's unlikely that Amazon will take Google or Yahoo or Paypal credit sources -- and all three of these and more have them. Indeed, you'll need Amazon's patented 1-Click. But maybe you need some spark plugs, too, from the Great Walmart of the Web.

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