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Amazon’s TestDrive Is the Real Strength of Appstore

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Amazon launched TestDrive Monday, a slightly delayed feature of the Appstore it introduced last week as a marketplace for Android (s goog) software. TestDrive allows prospective app buyers to run a live preview of an app before they spend any cash, with an Android device emulator that runs in their browsers. It’s a big win for Amazon, but also for Android as a whole.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to try the new TestDrive features, head over to Amazon’s (s amzn) Appstore and give it a whirl. For the time being, you must be in the U.S. to see the new app previews, and only certain apps have the feature enabled. Angry Birds Rio, for instance, can’t be played using TestDrive, but other games, like Bubble Buster, run amazingly well in the emulator. TestDrive doesn’t just provide a vague idea of what an app would be like on a mobile device, as is the case with preview videos. Instead, it actually represents a good idea of what to expect when using the software on your phone.

Or on your prospective phone, and that’s where TestDrive really has a chance to make its mark on the app and smartphone landscape. As an app store, Amazon’s offering faces some serious early hurdles. For one, it’s not yet shipping natively on any devices, which automatically means it’s at a disadvantage when compared to Google’s own Market for Android devices. AT&T (s t) Android users can’t even use the Amazon Appstore yet, at least not until the telco makes good on its promise to enable purchases in the near future. Some note it takes far more steps to get software from the Appstore onto an Android device than it does using other options, which is not good in the app business, where easy purchasing mechanisms often lead to a higher volume of sales.

But with TestDrive, Amazon offers what no other mobile app sales space has yet been able to effectively provide: the ability to try before you buy. Apple’s (s aapl) App Store often sees “lite” or free versions of apps offered alongside paid ones with limited functionality, but this isn’t available across the board, and users may not realize this option even exists even in cases where it is available. Google’s Android Market once offered a 24-hour trial period, but that window has been closed to only 15 minutes. Plus it’s more “buy, then try” than try before you buy, and again, may not be something users are necessarily aware of.

Neither option offers the ability to test an app in advance of purchase without even owning the device needed to run the software, the way Amazon’s Appstore now does, and that’s precisely what could make the Appstore so disruptive. TestFlight TestDrive can sell not only apps, but also the experience of Android itself, which might be enough to sway customers on the fence about whether or not to make the jump to a smartphone, especially those who have little prior experience with such a device. If Amazon can convince hardware partners that providing built-in, on-device access to its marketplace on their handsets is the best way to make brand-loyal customers out of these new converts, it should have device makers lining up to work with its store.

Hopefully, this works as a wakeup call for Apple and others, encouraging them to introduce similar means of previewing an app prior to purchase. Apple’s unlikely to willingly embrace such a model for the same reason Google narrowed its return window, as it’ll lead to fewer impulse buys and decreased overall revenue. But if Amazon’s model is one that customers find appealing enough to switch camps for, competitors will have no choice but to follow suit.

7 Responses to “Amazon’s TestDrive Is the Real Strength of Appstore”

  1. I don’t own a tablet or smart phone and I have yet to see a reason why I should. But it is conceivable that I might want to buy an android app from Amazon specifically to run on my laptop/desktop browser whenever I wish! Other folks might feel frustrated that an app that they bought for their smart phone or tablet will not run on their laptop/desktop browser.

  2. This is just a gimmicky dumb idea. Using an app on a touchscreen phone is a totally different experience than trying to use one with a mouse. Oh you’ll get some pretty screens alright – but I’d rather get stills or a video than try to manipulate an app with my computer.

  3. YingYing

    I am not really sure this TestDrive feature is such a good idea for developers. The TestDrive in a virtual machine probably doesn’t deliver the best end user experience. Many users will simply “TestDrive” an app, finding the experience sub-par, and walk away. At end of the day, a lot of $0.99 apps are simply impulse purchases. If the user doesn’t like the app, hey, it’s only a buck, no big deal. I feel the TestDrive feature will eliminate a lot of those impulse purchases. Bad news for developers.

  4. It’s great to see finally a true struggle for being a strong rival to appstore. At the end of the day, application consumers will be getting most out of it. Android vs Apple IOS…In the long run, Android might be winning this game, if it is chosen by all the other manufactureres of phones and tablets.

  5. love Amazon’s new store, but they need to pretty it up a bit (but keep the Amazon “feel”) & get deals with manufactures too preload it on the device.

    as much as everyone’s been screaming for 2 app stores (curated & open) Google might as well strike a deal with Amazon & let them do the work for them anyways.

    besides, not like theres any real money in app stores for any of these Fortune 100 companies anyways. they just use them too sale hardware.