Amazon Appstore for Android hands-on review: Android Market is in trouble
First and foremost, Amazon is promising to give away one paid app for free every day. Today it's Angry Birds Rio, and it only retails for 99 cents, but that doesn't really matter: people love free stuff. People will download stuff simply because it's free, even if they don't want it! The best bit (or worst bit) is that developers still get 20% of the usual retail price, which will be paid out of Amazon's pockets.
The next defining feature is Amazon Appstore exclusives. Angry Birds Rio, CoD:MW:Force Recon and other apps will be available only from Amazon. As we know from the console wars, exclusive titles aren't always a good thing, but who cares? Amazon simply wants unique selling points, and exclusive titles are definitely that.
It's not all good, though. We ran in to some rather serious bugs while playing around with the Amazon Appstore for Android app, and then there's the matter of having to enable installation from Unknown Sources before it will even install...
Please note that the Amazon Appstore for Android is currently only available in the U.S. You can change your billing address to somewhere in the U.S., however, which lets you download free apps, including the free app of the day.
InstallationTo begin with, you need to install the Amazon Appstore for Android app on your device. It isn't available from the Android Market, so you have to install it directly from an APK file, which requires you to enable installation from Unknown Sources (Settings > Applications > Unknown Sources).
Fortunately, if you're not an Android pro, Amazon has a handy help page to walk you through the process. Watch the video while you're at it, too; it's hilariously awful (but instructional!)
Once you've installed the app on your Android device, load it up and enter your Amazon login details. You'll then be greeted with a rather pretty -- and not lime green! -- home page. As you can see (above), the Paid App For Free is displayed front and center.
App discoveryAt the time of writing, Amazon's key 'recommendations for you' feature isn't available on the Android Appstore. For now, you have to make do with the same categories as Android Market -- Games, Utilities, Social Networking -- and the ability to sort apps by price, popularity, and age.
The search function is OK. It offers suggestions, like the Amazon website and Android Market, but it reacts very slowly (even on Wi-Fi), and seems a little buggy. Typing 'ang' pops up 'Angry Birds', but 'angry' and 'an' do nothing.
On the plus side, the Amazon Appstore app does have a 'customers who viewed ultimately bought...' carousel on each and every app page. They don't look very accurate at the moment (apparently people opted to buy Bonsai Blast for $1.99 instead of Angry Birds Rio for free), but in the long run it should be as good as the Web version.
App detailsDespite radically different layouts and the addition of Amazon-centric features like the carousel mentioned above, there's no fundamental difference between apps on the Amazon Appstore and Android Market.
The only notable difference we could spot is that the Amazon Appstore doesn't tell you how many times an app has been downloaded -- and the download size is hidden behind the Product Description box. You can also share Appstore apps links, but only via SMS or email.
One interesting feature is the 'Saved for Later' list, which is basically a Wish List but for apps. For now it's just a private list, but presumably Amazon could enable public sharing in the future and allow people to buy you apps!
Buying appsLike Android Market, you can buy Appstore apps from either on your Android device or from the comfort of your PC. Unlike AppBrain and Android Market, though, Appstore doesn't yet support push-to-phone installation -- instead, you get a notification on your Android screen, pointing you to My Apps to install it. Presumably push-to-phone will be rolled out eventually, though; this is just an initial release!
A word of warning: be careful of Amazon's much-celebrated 1-Click purchasing. We accidentally bought no less than three apps while reviewing Amazon Appstore. If you click Buy App, it immediately purchases the app and begins the download. No amount of frantic pushing and swiping will prevent the transaction, much to our dismay...
CaveatsIf it wasn't clear already, Amazon Appstore is completely separate from Android Market. It doesn't share ratings or download figures, and developers have to manually upload their apps to both markets.
In fact, the markets are separate in every way but one: as far as your phone is concerned, an app is an app. It doesn't matter if an app comes from Amazon or Google: it will still have the same filesystem path, which in turn causes some rather annoying issues if you use both markets at the same time.
If you install an app from the Market, the Appstore doesn't recognize that it's on your phone -- but if you then buy the app on the Appstore, it recognizes the installed app and offers to update it. Even worse, Appstore apps aren't recognized by the Android Market, and it causes an error if you try to 'overwrite' your Appstore app.
So who's the winner?The Appstore is an impressive first effort from Amazon. It was inspired by the Android Market, but the Appstore is very much an Amazon tool, laced with the same world-renowned paradigms that made the Amazon website so successful.
At the same time, there's no doubt that the Android Market, as it stands, is smoother than Amazon's offering. There are no refunds with the Amazon system, and the lack of push-to-phone installing is a nuisance. Let's not forget that this is Amazon's initial release, though, and it's a lot better than Google's first version of the Market.
Ultimately, however, because of the two app stores' inherent incompatibilities, you will be forced to pick one or the other. Amazon, knowing full well that you have to choose, will reel you in with free apps and exclusive titles -- and then you'll be hooked.
Did we mention that the Amazon Appstore even has an in-app button to call customer service if you get stuck...?
Amazon could definitely have a winner on its hands.
[At the time of writing, Amazon's 'Test Drive' feature, where you can try out apps in a Flash applet for 30 minutes, seems to be disabled. We'll update this post after it re-appears.]