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Amazon's Underground Unshackles Freemium Android Apps

By Quinten Plummer
Aug 31, 2015 2:07 PM PT

Amazon last week freed a selection of Android apps of the in-app payment requirements necessary to enjoy them to their fullest. The value of the goodies in the apps labeled "Actually Free" comes to more than US$10,000, Amazon said.

Amazon's Underground Unshackles Freemium Android Apps

The Actually Free apps can be accessed via Underground, a new app available from Amazon.

Amazon Underground is essentially an expansion of the company's core mobile shopping app.

Amazon Underground

To take advantage of this cache of content, consumers only need an Amazon account, which is free, and an Android mobile device. Underground apps and games are available automatically on Amazon's Fire HD and Fire HDX tablets.

Some of the hundreds of popular titles included in Underground are Goat Simulator, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Anomaly 2 and Beach Buggy Racing.

Any locked content inside the games, from cosmetic items to additional levels, is completely free. However, Amazon won't pass up the opportunity to reveal through notifications how much it has saved its customers.

Amazon provides compensation to developers who participate in the Actually Free program based on the amount of time people spend interacting with their apps and games.

That move alone has the potential to disrupt the market, according to according to Justin Hamel, CEO of MastaMinds.

"Customers love free stuff and this is a lot of free stuff all in one -- bottom line! If a customer has a choice of paying or getting it for free it's a no-brainer," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Free wins every time."

Actually Free

Families united by their kids' unauthorized app purchases have launched a class action assault at Amazon, Apple and Google over app store policies believed to have been too lax.

Google responded by strengthening the language in its microtransaction warnings and by shortening the length of time allowed after an initial app purchase to buy additional goods. Apple stopped labeling freemium apps as "Free" and starting branding them "Get."

Amazon's own Appstore store is clear and secure in this respect, the company maintains. However, it sees Underground as a way to draw Google Play customers into the Amazon ecosystem. Google Play won't allow Underground, because its rules prohibit apps that sell other apps and games.

This latest move will help Amazon make up ground in the space, said Larry Chiagouris, professor of marketing at Pace University's Lubin School of Business.

"Amazon is on a collision course with Apple and its iTunes store and also with Google and its Google Play download site," he told the E-Commerce Times. "If it is going to compete effectively with Apple and Google, Amazon has to jump in and accelerate growth in apps that extend the Amazon universe."

This move may be bigger than Amazon and its multifront war with Google and Apple. Amazon's latest approach could disrupt the app store industry.

"What we are watching here is an entire business model transforming at the hands of Amazon," said MastaMinds' Hamel. "This is a great promotion that will cost a few bucks for Amazon up front -- but it will get people in the door, and on their way to buying the items that make Amazon the real cash."


Quinten Plummer is a longtime technology reporter and an avid PC gamer who explored local news for a few years, covering law enforcement and government beats, before returning to writing about things run by ones and zeros and the people who make them. If it pushes pixels or improves lives, he wants to learn all he can about it.


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