Amazon’s Android Appstore, not so amazing

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Running a successful app store isn’t trivial. Building out the necessary features and services and making it appealing to both consumers and developers can be hard work, something Amazon is learning. The company has been taken to task by an independent developer that is pulling its game app from the Amazon Appstore for Android, calling it a “disaster” because of a number of shortcomings. It’s the complaint of one developer but it highlights some of the challenges in building a mature market for apps, even for an experienced retailer like Amazon.

Bithack, an independent Swedish developer responsible for physics-based game Apparatus, which hit No. 3 on the Amazon rankings, said it was done with Amazon Appstore and will focus all its efforts on Android Market. CEO Emil Romanus wrote in a blog post that Amazon Appstore was a disaster for him and said smaller dev shops shouldn’t bother.

He said the problems include:

  • No device filtering. The Appstore doesn’t filter out apps by device so users were downloading the app to devices that couldn’t run the app or did so poorly. Romanus said that resulted in a lot of low ratings.
  • Limited consumer feedback. There is no obvious option for contacting the developer on Amazon Appstore, and that has led to just three responses from consumers to Bithack, two through Twitter, compared to hundreds on Android Market. And there is no way to refund users, said Romanus, which is a key tool in keeping consumers happy.
  • Slow review process. It took two weeks to hear back that the app was declined for not using HTTPS for a session cookie in the community section. After that was fixed, it took another week to get approved and subsequent updates aren’t approved quickly.
  • No recourse for incorrect reviews. Romanus said the last straw was a review that stated that Apparatus must connect to the Internet to serve ads and actually tracks users. Romanus said the review was incorrect about the Internet connection and tracking but it nonetheless was voted “Most Helpful.” But because Bithack is not based in the U.S., where Amazon Appstore is limited to, Romanus couldn’t buy the app, which he said is a requirement for writing a review. So he had no way to refute the erroneous review. And that hurt sales significantly, he said.
  • Cheap pricing. Romanus said that after the bad review, Amazon lowered the price to 99 cents from $1.50, which was already a 50 percent discount, without explaining why. That is a controversial but well-publicized provision in Amazon’s developer agreement that has sparked concerns from the Independent Games Developers Association.

Romanus said larger developers can afford to stick it out in Amazon Appstore because they can buy enough testing devices and can wait through a long testing process. And they’re likely to have more clout, so Amazon follows through on supporting them. He said Amazon didn’t follow-up after featuring Apparatus as its Free App of the Day and hasn’t responded to his email requesting the app to be pulled. He said for smaller developers, there’s little reason to stick around. And he predicts there will be little drop-off in sales by focusing on Android Market because most Amazon users just come for the free app promotions. He said he had 180,000 downloads, but only 1,000 of them were paid. Romanus told me Amazon didn’t pay him for the Free App of the Day promotion.

“From a developer perspective, I don’t see why anyone would choose to publish an app on Amazon Appstore. Similarly, I have yet to figure out why any user would switch to Amazon Appstore from Android Market…” Romanus wrote.

Now, there are plenty of developers who like Amazon Appstore and Bithack’s experience is not exactly representative. Amazon has won over many consumers and developers with its powerful recommendation engine and some cool features like Test Drive, which lets users try an app on their computer first.

But Bithack’s departure shows that there is still some maturing to be done for Amazon Appstore. Providing consistent support to developers and giving them all the tools necessary to be successful and profitable is a lot of work, something Google is still working on with Android Market. And it’s another reason why Apple has done so well with its App Store, because even with some developer restrictions, it’s pretty built-out for consumers and developers.

I’m sure we’ll see more improvements in Amazon’s store over time, especially if and when it launches its own tablets and other devices. But for now, at least one developer says Amazon’s Appstore isn’t quite there yet.

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