Will developer anger at the Amazon Appstore kill the Amazon tablet before it's launched?

Will developer anger at the Amazon Appstore kill the Amazon tablet before it's launched?
The Amazon Appstore has become the whipping boy of developers recently because of missing features, troubling practices, and an ecosystem that is designed more to benefit Amazon than the developers. The Amazon Appstore launched in March, and last month the troubles for developers got to the point where some began to leave. The first story to get circulated around was from developer Bithack, which pulled its physics game, Apparatus, from the Appstore because of a number of problems with the way Amazon ran its store. Now, just a couple days ago developer Shifty Jelly pulled its Pocket Casts app from the Amazon Appstore and posted a scathing review of the service. 

Developer issues

Both Bithack and Shifty Jelly have a number of issues which overlap. First up on both of the lists of complaints was the lengthy review process. Unlike the Android Market, which gets its own flak for being something of a wild west where anyone and anything goes, the Amazon Appstore has a slow approval process for both new apps and updates. Developers cite a 2 week long review process, and Bithack had to go through an extra week after its app was declined and had to be resubmitted. In a unified ecosystem like iOS, something like this wouldn't be a problem, but because submissions are instant in the Android Market, it means that there will often be a newer, updated version of an app in the Android Market as compared to Amazon. Many times, this may not cause much of a problem, but there have been some big troubles. For example, when UberMedia was tagged by Twitter for TOS violations, Twidroyd became unusable. The update was pushed to the Android Market immediately once the issues were fixed, but the Amazon Appstore was left with an unusable Twidroyd app being downloaded by unknowing users. 

Another big issue is simply a lack of communication. First of all, users cannot contact developers directly from the Amazon Appstore, users can only leave reviews on an app. Sometimes, this may not be an issue as developers can monitor comments and reply to users, but that is an awkward solution at best, and doesn't guarantee that users will see the replies. Originally, international developers like Bithack had no way to respond to user complaints, because you needed to have purchased the app in order to comment, which it couldn't do because the Appstore is US-only. Of course, a way to directly communicate with developers would help because another issue with Amazon is there are also no error reports, so developers again must rely on comments in order to identify bugs. There is a "Leave Feedback" option in the Appstore app itself which supposedly will eventually get to the developers, but it is buried a bit and is just underneath a "Contact Customer Support" option, and so is hardly easy to pick out as the way to contact a developer.

The biggest issue is simply a matter of control. With the Android Market, developers have control because Google is mostly hands-off unless issues of malware or other security problems arise. In the Amazon Appstore, developers have very little control. We have known for a while that Amazon reserves the right to set the price of an app as it sees fit, regardless of what the developer wants. But beyond that, according to Shifty Jelly, Amazon will also rewrite an app's description. With Pocket Casts, Amazon apparently changed the description that the app could "refresh 100 podcasts in the time it takes other apps to do 1" to being able to "add 100 podcasts". 

Also, there is still no way for developers to set device compatibility rules for their apps, or even offer multiple APKs like the Android Market. So, users can purchase and download an app only to find out that it is incompatible. Even when writing this, I was allowed to purchase and download Samurai II: Vengeance (a game only compatible with Tegra 2 devices) on my Nexus One. And, this leads to the last big complaint with Amazon, which is that there is no easy way to get a refund on a purchased app. You can contact Amazon Customer service, and usually get a refund, but the process is certainly not that transparent.

Overall, the Appstore is designed to be interconnected with Amazon, and link customers through to other Amazon sections to buy more things there. Amazon uses the free app of the day as a way to bring people in, but it doesn't exactly care whether users stay in the Appstore as long as customers are in the Amazon ecosystem. This leads to developers not getting paid when their apps are downloaded thousands of times in the free app promotion. But, this has also fostered a culture within users where people stop in for the free app, which devs don't get paid for, then leave without buying anything else. The Appstore has become more of a free app repository than full-fledged store.

Amazon's side of the story

After the ordeal with Bithack, Android Police talked to Aaron Rubenson, director of the Amazon Appstore for Android, and the day before Shifty Jelly posted about its issues, Venture Beat also talked with Rubenson. From these two interviews, we've been able to gather Amazon's reasoning for some of the issues developers have. 

The basic tenet of Amazon seems to be "unify, curate, and discovery." As far as communication, Rubenson stated that Amazon wants a unified experience across the site, which is why all feedback goes through Amazon, and there are no links directly to the developer. This unification idea is also supposedly behind the way refunds are handled, although the logic gets a little fuzzier. The idea is that Amazon wants to be the one providing the service, and not just be a listing platform for developers. There is no return window like the Android Market, because Amazon doesn't want to hurt developers. This is a very Apple-ish approach, but obviously it does have its own flaws. As mentioned, it makes the refund process far more opaque, and one could argue that a bad review from a customer forced to keep the app could be more damaging than having a return window.

The review policy and length falls under the idea of curation. This should be one of the biggest benefits of the Amazon system. The Android Market has hundreds of thousands of apps, but that includes thousands and thousands of instances of spam, copyright infringement, clones, and just flat out useless apps. Amazon wants to have a curated experience to avoid all of those issues. Again, this is a very Apple-ish idea, and could work well, but it may still be a bit too soon to judge. The Appstore has already grown to around 14,000 apps, most of which are games, and aside from the issues with updated versions mentioned before, the curation has worked well. Curation is also the main reason for the app review process, because while Amazon does use it to weed out spam, it is also used as a testing period to supposedly combat any potential compatibility issues. Amazon also claims there are warnings when purchasing an incompatible app, but I certainly didn't see any.

Curation is of course the main piece of discovery, which is another benefit of the Appstore. Google has redesigned the Market a number of times, and introduced the Web Store in efforts to help people discover new apps. Of course, even with the review process in the Apple App Store there are similar troubles with discovery simply because of the sheer number of apps. Discovery is much better on Amazon right now mainly due to the small number of apps. Discovery seems to also be behind the ideas of rewording app descriptions and changing the price, but it seems like there must be other ways to feature an app aside from cutting the price without developer consent.

The future of the Amazon tablet

There are certainly a number of issues with the Amazon Appstore, and there is also plenty of time to try sorting out some of the issues before the release of the rumored-but-certainly-real Amazon tablet. Because this will be an Amazon branded tablet, that means there will not be any Google Apps. As per Google's TOS, if you remove one Google App (the Market), you can't have any of them (Gmail, Maps, GTalk, etc.) This means that Amazon will have to find ways to populate those features through partnerships, proprietary apps, or its Appstore. Amazon could potentially have both the Android Market and its own Appstore on the device, but that would create confusion for users, which is something Amazon wants to avoid. Additionally, in order to have the Android Market on a 2.x device, there are much more strict rules for having certain features like: camera, GPS, and mobile data. As of right now, the Appstore simply doesn't have enough in it to cover all of the use cases of a tablet. Given that the Appstore has grown from about 4,000 apps at launch to 14,000 today, it seems reasonable that it will have at least 25,000 by the time the Amazon tablet launches. But, given the proportion of games, will that even be enough?

As with many cases, success of the Amazon tablet seems to be highly dependent on how you frame the aims of the tablet. Many people in the tech world want to frame the Amazon tablet as an iPad-killer, but what exactly needs to happen for it to "kill" the iPad? Will sales be enough, or will features be a big part of the equation?

My feeling is that the Amazon tablet will be an extension of the Kindle. At heart, it will be an e-reader, but an e-reader with benefits. Amazon has learned from the Nook Color. Consumers want a full screen e-reader with apps and extra features, but Amazon doesn't want to foster the rooting community that has sprung up around the Nook Color. Amazon, like Apple, wants to control the experience, and this means giving consumers what they want, but it also means likely alienating the more tech savvy crowd. However, given that the Amazon tablet will be based on Android 2.x, the tech savvy crowd was already most likely alienated.

If you expect the Amazon tablet to be an Android experience, or even a full-fledged tablet, it feels like you're setting yourself up for disappointment. If you live outside of the US and want an Amazon tablet, you're likely to be very disappointed. If you expect the Amazon tablet to compete on features with the iPad (aside from handily beating the iBookstore), again that may lead to disappointment. However, if you expect an entertainment device, and more importantly a shopping device, that seems to be where the Amazon tablet is headed. It will most certainly have deep ties into the Amazon store, it will heavily feature the Kindle store and Kindle magazine selections, and there looks to be an impressive array of games available through the Appstore. There is a very good chance that the Amazon tablet, especially the 7" variant, will come in as one of the cheaper tablets on the market.

Amazon has already been toying with ad-supported Kindles, so it seems pretty likely that there would also be ad-supported variants of the Amazon tablet in order to get the 7" model down to the sub-$200 sweet spot. Amazon has the name recognition and Kindle following to quickly become one of the top tablet sellers if the price is low enough. The trouble is that those of us who truly care (maybe a bit too much) about the mobile world will almost undoubtedly be disappointed, because the Amazon tablet will more likely not be made for us. Compared to Honeycomb tablets that will be out this fall, and the rumored iPad HD, the Amazon tablet likely will come up short for many, but the price will sway people towards it. The features will be limited to keep cost down, and as well stocked as the games section may be in the Appstore, it seems unlikely to have the variety of apps and basic options we crave, especially with developers taking a backseat to Amazon's goals.



1. gallitoking

Posts: 4721; Member since: May 17, 2011

sorry didnt read the WHOLE article as i only have 15 minute break... but the picture intrigue me... ..I wonder what the finger in the Amazon logo is doing to the android to have those eyes.. hmmm,,,break over... deuces...

27. Blkbear unregistered

A little Android nip/bolt play, and you get those eyes. Pinch the nip/bolts and you get the O face. I'm just saying...

2. saiki4116

Posts: 413; Member since: Mar 31, 2011

nice article

3. The_Miz

Posts: 1496; Member since: Apr 06, 2011

Just another reason why App Store will always be better

4. wassup

Posts: 565; Member since: Jun 23, 2011

amazon app store ISN'T better than the Android App Market, and will never be.

5. bizwhizzy

Posts: 51; Member since: Aug 04, 2011

He's referring to the Apple App Store, not the Amazon Appstore. Also, The_Miz is the biggest Apple troll in these parts. He's not worth your time.

9. wassup

Posts: 565; Member since: Jun 23, 2011

oh.... p.s i knew he was referring to apple app store, but i just felt like messing with him. *correction* The_Miz is ONE of the biggest apple trolls in these parts, there are waay more :D

12. The_Miz

Posts: 1496; Member since: Apr 06, 2011

If this was the App Store, with Apple which is also copyright infringement by Amazon, this wouldn't be a problem. You're just mad that I am telling the truth about your precious Android devices.

17. Yeeee

Posts: 190; Member since: Aug 02, 2011

Ok I now hate amazon cause of this article. I also dislike Microsoft then I like Apple then I love Google

22. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

the amazon app store its not related with Google or android.... its just a way for them go make some sales at the cost of the android market so I don't see why android fans should be mad that it fails this just proves the amazon store its not close to being as good as the android market for developers...... but you only see that its android and you assume will be mad because of that? now what significant comment you posted that would make anyone mad?

7. PeterIfromsweden

Posts: 1230; Member since: Aug 03, 2011

Can anybody ban this annoying guy called the_miz ? He just seems to be spamming for Apple or something

8. gallitoking

Posts: 4721; Member since: May 17, 2011

is called freedom of speech... and in his defense... he went to the doctor and the doctor told him . an apple article a day.. keeps the android trolls away.. jejejeje

14. The_Miz

Posts: 1496; Member since: Apr 06, 2011

That actually made me chuckle.

13. The_Miz

Posts: 1496; Member since: Apr 06, 2011

Bawww, the mean old Miz is using freedom of speech to talk about Android and Pete can't accept that. Get over yourself, I have as much right to praise the golden Apple as Android fans who go to Apple articles and troll them.

15. iankellogg

Posts: 155; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

I have a question. Other than being a troll. Why do you care? Just keep buying apple iPhones and I will keep buying whatever I please.

30. The_Miz

Posts: 1496; Member since: Apr 06, 2011

Because I can. I don't need a reason, I just feel like commenting like everyone else does.

19. bizwhizzy

Posts: 51; Member since: Aug 04, 2011

You do have that right, but you have absolutely no idea of context. It often feels like you just click a random story on the site and write something about how Apple is awesome. There's no logic behind the comments, no thought, you just spray your Apple love everywhere and don't care who takes it in the eye.

18. dandirk

Posts: 187; Member since: Aug 04, 2011

ummmm They pretty much said the Amazon AppStore was very close to Apple's... The only difference maybe the approval time, but I have no clue how long Apple's approval process is.

20. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Apple's review time varies, but developers say it does tend to be longer than the two weeks for the initial review that Amazon takes. Turnaround is faster on both for updates.

6. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

so from the sounds of it, the amazon tablet sounds like a slightly enhanced version of the nook color... with games. If they keep the price low, that will probably sell well with families what want a cheap multipurpose device that everyone can use. Being highlighted permanently on the amazon market will definately help that .. :)

10. box unregistered

I can vouch that the compatiblity thing does in fact kick in. Most of the apps I want to download are apparently incompatible with my Viewsonic gTablet (10.1") , despite it having 1GB of RAM, a Tegra2 chipset, and 2.2 FroYo. Guess those are for phones, and can't be pushed to the larger screen. I agree with the refund statements as well: I purchased Cut the Rope from Amazon because a) GetJar doesn't have a version for the gTab, b) the gTab doesn't have the ability to download directly from Android Market, and c) because I had an Amazon gift card to burn. In short, the purchase went fine, no compatibility warnings, but each attempt at downloading and installing leads to an error, and after a week, I requested Amazon refund my money. 2 weeks later, I haven't heard back.

11. jskrenes

Posts: 209; Member since: Dec 11, 2008

I hope the Amazon App Store sticks around for a bit. It is a good way to get a decent number of Android apps on devices that don't have a full-fledged Google app store.

16. aztaxia12295

Posts: 272; Member since: Nov 22, 2009

lol at the amazing meme face :p

21. PHug unregistered

I don't understand how/why devs. don't get paid for free app of the day. If Amazon puts a paid app up for free and does not pay the devs. for each download isn't that the same as pirating?

23. dandirk

Posts: 187; Member since: Aug 04, 2011

First a Dev has the submit their app separately for the FAD program. Second, once selected the devs are given the option to approve/Decline being scheduled for FAD. They are notified of the 0% of list price they will receive that day. Now devs understand they agreed to it. Yet they feel sort of cheated cause when promoting the new store to Devs they were told the minimum they would make would be 20% of their list price (normal is 70%) imo Amazon has gone pretty far in their "control" of the apps. They dictate price. The devs say what the list price will be, but Amazon reserves the right to discount it at any time they choose, I am not sure how their cut is changed by this, don't know if there is some sliding scale from 20-70% based on Amazon set sale price. Heck Devs can only "request" their app is removed. wtf is that! Yes I know this is knee jerk reaction... just wanted to make a point.

24. RIMpireStrikesBack

Posts: 25; Member since: Jul 11, 2011

This was a pretty informative article, curious to see what happens...

25. Deicide

Posts: 82; Member since: Jul 02, 2011

Amazon AppStore really basically sucks hard. I never purchased any apps from there, only getting the free one of the day. It's so bland in there and just sucks suck sucks.

26. Yea,AmazonSucks unregistered

This one phrase does it for me, "Amazon, like Apple, wants to control the experience, and this means giving consumers what they want, but it also means likely alienating the more tech savvy crowd." I am one of those people that bought a nook color, and has it doing every awesome thing that it has the hardware to do, and doing more than you'd ever think you could have it do. That said: The problem with apple and anyone who uses them as a model.. they want to control what the device can do, so they can sell you another device in the near future. Sure, you had to jailbreak the iphone, but the original phone that couldn't record video COULD in fact record video. The iphone 3g COULD record video, but the 3gs can record hi-def, the only qualifying selling point(besides harddrive) of the device. Oh wait, a jailbroken 3g can record in the SAME QUALITY. At my old job working at a university I had to jailbreak iPads to do video out because the apple representatives said it couldn't.. they were surprised when I showed them what it can do in the classroom as soon as I got around their limitations. I am quite sure the iPhone 4 and the iPad 2 are capable of many things they DON'T do, but CAN do.. and that they will sell you a new device soon that will.(Lets fill more landfills for no reason) Hell, I had ios4.1 on an original iphone, something they said the iphone 3g couldn't do.(Now I am ranting I think) Each release of newer device from apple was NOT an improvement in a big way, but a controlled release of a single or few features they wanted you to be able to do. Intentional limitations purely in software. It is one of the BIG reasons why I stopped buying iPhones.. to make it do everything it COULD do, I had to defy what the manufacturer didn't want it to be able to do. If amazon does this, I don't see this as being a success.. it is the same idea as someone micromanaging. Sure, it CAN be comforting to have someone come in and tell you every little detail of what to do so you don't have to think -- unless you don't have a problem with THINKING.(This is the concept that I think constantly spawns a sheep argument) Android, simply put, is open source. Even if a manufacturer doesn't want the phones software altered, the NATURE of the software is that it CAN be altered. You can buy an android phone/tablet, and KNOW that if the hardware can do it, and there is a community around the device, the software will allow it. This is how I stream movies, play games(meant for the tegra only devices), have a newer operating system than most android phones, and so much more.. all for 250 dollars. I didn't want a camera on a tablet. I don't want another data plan. Just something a little more comfortable. Anyways, successful devices are the ones that can accomodate the less tech savvy in ease of use, WITHOUT stepping on the toes of those who know how to make it do more. Why should they? The new samsung galaxy s 2 has no bootloader, a great thing for those of us who want to

29. biscutbob

Posts: 82; Member since: Jul 08, 2011

I really like what you had to say. I didnt know all that before I read what you said but I have always liked android and the idea of an open source system. I switched from my iphone for just that reason that I could do sooooooooooooooooooooooo much more right out of the box.

28. biscutbob

Posts: 82; Member since: Jul 08, 2011

Bithack is just mad becasue thier game sold like sh*t.

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