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Amazon Lets Customers Take Android Apps Out for a Spin

By Rob Spiegel
Mar 28, 2011 1:14 PM PT

Amazon's Android Appstore launched last week with an innovative approach to selling apps. Amazon Test Drive allows potential customers to try out the full-version of an app free for 30 minutes on a virtual version of an Android phone. Currently, Test Drive is limited to U.S. customers -- however, the Amazon Appstore is not yet available to AT&T subscribers.

Amazon Lets Customers Take Android Apps Out for a Spin

Test Drive is up and running for 20 different apps including IMDB, Kindle and The Huffington Post. Amazon plans to roll it out for many more apps in the future.

Amazon Test Drive is available using personal computers but not using Android phones themselves. Clicking the "Test drive now" button opens a version of the app on Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud.

"Test Drive is a cool new Amazon Appstore feature that lets customers try apps before buying them directly in their Internet browser," Anya Waring, Amazon public relations manager, told the E-Commerce Times. "It's not a video -- customers use the actual app directly in their Web browser, while the app runs on a simulator on Amazon's servers. Customers control the app through their computer using a mouse."

The app is displayed on a virtual phone that running a customized version of Android 2.2.1. Users can even back out of the app and try other features of the phone, excluding GPS and camera functionality.

The Android Ecosystem

Amazon may one-up the official Android Marketplace.

"I find it interesting that Amazon has opted to jump into this space," Michael Morgan, senior analyst, mobile devices, for ABI Research, told the E-Commerce Times. "Obviously, the Android app market has suffered a bit in comparison to the Apple App Store in terms of refinement and application vetting. It will be interesting to see if Amazon can deliver an improvement over the Android laissez-faire approach."

AT&T has said it is working with Amazon to release an update that will allow access to Amazon's Appstore.

"I was a little annoyed when I ... found that AT&T's security concerns prevented me from downloading the store," said Morgan. "I can't speak to the how the revenue-sharing is working with the Amazon deal, but I do not believe that is the root cause of this 'oversight.' However, I would ask why Amazon did not recognize and fix this issue before the store was opened."

Apps Everywhere You Go

The Android Appstore gives Amazon yet another channel for content delivery, and if it becomes better than the official Android Market, then it could actually be good for Google.

"With the ever-growing importance of digital content in mobile ecosystems, having Amazon pick up the content ball that Google dropped could be a good thing," said Morgan. "Google does not want to deal with the licensing headaches that Amazon is so good at, and Amazon gains another foothold in the mobile space."

This is just the beginning for Amazon's entry into the app world.

"The application and content ecosystem for Android needs to bake a little more," Morgan noted. "Amazon could help to solidify the application and digital content space for Android, but they obviously have to work through their initial opening bumps before they can gather a mass global audience."

More Competitive Pressure

Test Drive offers a boost to users that may pressure Apple into making a similar offering available, though it's not likely to have a serious impact or influence consumers' choice of device any time soon, according to Alex Spektor, senior analyst for wireless device strategies at Strategy Analytics.

"Any innovation in the app store space can be great for the whole industry, as it raises consumer expectations and sets a new bar for all competitors," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Still, "Apple typically marches to the beat of its own drum, and Amazon's move is unlikely to spur any near-term changes in the iTunes App Store," he added. "Ultimately, the ability to test out apps in advance could be an important buying criterion to a minority of buyers, but for the general population, the choice between iPhone and Android is made based on dozens of factors, including brand preference, device pricing and UI taste."

Kick the Tires Before You Buy

The feature could be one of several factors that combine to give Android an edge, suggested William A. Stofega, program director, mobile device technology and trends at IDC.

"It's interesting -- a good thing," he told the E-Commerce Times. "It gives people the flavor, look and feel of the application, and how it's going to impact their productivity or their entertainment."

It's better to take a test drive on a computer than to download a demo version of an app to your smartphone, he pointed out.

"If you're doing something with data on your mobile device, there are costs associated with it," said Stofega.

"You don't want to waste your costs downloading something and finding out it's a piece of junk. Sometimes it's hard to tell, even with the rating systems. This is a way to try things out before you make the investment," he noted.

"As for [Android's] position against iPhone, yes, if you add enough benefits, it makes a difference in the marketplace," continued Stofega. "Amazon makes Android friendlier for users. Developers like to work with Android. They don't feel they have to comply with Apple. These positive differences add up."


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