Apple may not think much of Amazon’s Appstore for Android–it has sued claiming the name is a trademark violation–but Android phone and tablet owners have reason to rejoice. Google is good at mant things, but retailing is not one of them and the Android Market has always been one of the weak points of the Android ecosystem. Amazon is very good at retailing and there’s every reason to belie that the store, which went live March 22, will be of benefit to both Android users and developers.
It’s a bit hard to assess the store in its earliest hours. It launched with just under 4,000 apps, a small sampling of the Android app universe, but that is likely to grow fast. It is currently available only in the U.S. And for the moment, folks with AT&T Android phones need not apply; AT&T blocks downloads from any source but the official Google Market though Amazon is working to change that soon.
Key areas where Amazon could improve on Google’s offering are discoverability, curation, and compatibility. Amazon is way ahead of anyone else in the art of recommending related purchases to buyers. While its suggestions are occasionally a bit daft–its inability to distinguish stuff you have bought as gifts from things you have bought for yourself is a weak point– they are often dead on.
The initial recommendations are weak (see screen shot, left.) It doesn’t seem likely that there’s much connection between Angry Birds, Wolfram Alpha, and the Newsweek app. But, of course, Amazon currently has no data on either my personal app purchases or the wisdom of the crowd. There’s every reason to believe these recommendations will get much better as Amazon begins to accumulate purchase data.
Curation is a tricky subject, but a good opportunity. There has to be a big and profitable middle ground between the obsessiveness of Apple’s control of the iTune App Store and Google’s just about anything goes approach tro the Android Market. Google’s lack of curation has led to a vast number of apps ranging from dubious to malicious. If Amazon can walk the narrow path between vetting apps for quality while avoiding heavy-handedness, it should have a winner.
Finally, Amazon could perform a big service by sorting out apps by compatibility. The Google world is plagued by a variety of versions of its operating system, not all of them compatible. While the core compatibility issues seem to be improving as the older 1.5 and 1.6 versions of Android slowly disappear, there will always be a gap between Android phones and larger tablets. It appears that Amazon plans to address this, though the feature doesn’t seem to quite be working yet. Every app’s page includes a box labelled “Compatibility with your devices” and a checklist. Unfortunately, every app I looked at–obviously not all 4,000–listed the Verizon Droid X and nothing else. One this feature is working properly, it will be a big help for anyone trying to slog through the swamp of android app compatibility.