Amazon Aims for Quality in Its Android App Store

Amazon (s amzn) is officially taking the wraps off its long-awaited Amazon App Store for Android (s goog), with the formal launch of a developer program. The Amazon store — which won’t arrive until sometime later this year — is aimed at creating a high-quality destination for Android app buyers and will give Android users a trusted place to pick up apps.

As I wrote last year, what Amazon is doing has a lot of potential, because it addresses some major shortcomings of Google’s own Android Market, which appears on almost all Android devices. Android Market, with some 200,000 apps, doesn’t suffer from lack of quantity, but it hasn’t been a huge money-maker for app developers because it’s rather simple, provides too few discovery tools and categories, has had little marketing and requires that purchases go through Google Checkout, a system that many users don’t seem to want to use.

While Google has addressed some of the concerns with recent improvements to Android Market, there’s still a lot Amazon can provide to both users and developers. I think serious developers will definitely look at the Amazon App Store as a way to sell their apps. It does bring some confusion to consumers, having to consider multiple application stores, but Amazon’s approach and its reputation as an online retailer should make it a popular destination for both consumers and developers. Here are the details of the program, some of which have been reported before:

  • Amazon will take a 30-percent cut of the sale price, the same as Google and Apple (s aapl). There’s a $99 developer fee that Amazon is waiving for the first year. Developers must set a list price, but Amazon will be able to discount the app on its own. Developers will get at least 20 percent of the list price on discounted apps. This could get tricky if Amazon starts undercutting the price of an app already listed on Android Market, but Amazon officials told TechCrunch (s aol) they’re looking to make money for developers and price flexibility can be helpful for that. This won’t be an issue if developers ultimately make more money selling through Amazon, but we’ll have to see.
  • The Amazon App Store will be built into and will also be accessible from mobile devices through the Amazon app. It’s not quite clear how the installation process will work, which could be an important point. Amazon is reportedly in talks with manufacturers to get the App Store pre-installed, but until then, users will have to go into their settings to allow app installations from “unknown sources.” App purchases and installations will need to be dead simple for this to work well.
  • At launch, the Amazon App Store will work on Android 1.6 devices and higher and will only be available in the U.S. initially. This will need to expand quickly for developers to take advantage of the big opportunity overseas.
  • Developers will be able to submit an unlimited number of images and up to five videos showing how the app works. Amazon will use the videos on its products page. This should be good for developers to better showcase their apps, and videos especially could convince some consumers that an app is worth buying. The fact that users will be able to browse from their PC is also a plus. Google has promised an online storefront for Android Market but we still haven’t seen it yet.
  • Developers who want to apply DRM must use Amazon’s system. Amazon will test all apps for functionality and to ensure they meet content guidelines, which forbid things like pornography, illegal content, offensive material and intellectual property violations. According to some reports, Amazon is looking to take a more liberal stance than Apple, so it should allow more satire. This review process could also weed out some of the junk apps and blatant copycats in Android Market, making for a more refined buying experience. There may be fewer options for consumers, but they may feel more confident about putting down money for an app.
  • Amazon will help market the apps and will apply its recommendation engine for apps, so consumers will be able to get recommendations on apps based on previous purchases. This is a big part of value proposition for Amazon. They know how to sell, and many consumers obviously have a good relationship with them. Android App Store has a new “similar to” feature to recommend apps, but Amazon will be able to draw on more of a user’s overall purchase history to help create more precise recommendations.
  • App purchases will happen through a consumer’s Amazon account, so existing users won’t have to enter credit-card information, and developers will be able to add their own payment system, presumably for in-app purchases. This is also a big win for developers. Google Checkout, the main way for buying apps on Android Market, doesn’t have that much penetration among consumers, so first-time app buyers are forced to enter in credit card information from their handset. Having an existing financial relationship with consumers gives Amazon the ability to do one-click purchases and gives consumers some of the ease they see in iTunes purchases.

We still have to see the Amazon App Store for Android in action and how many developers actually support it, but it sounds like this should be a positive addition for consumers and developers. Android Market is still getting better, but for now, Amazon’s app store is showing there’s a need for more choice in the marketplace.

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