Amazon readies launch of Android Market competitor

Amazon is preparing to open an Android app store to compete with Google’s Android Market, and has launched a beta portal where developers can submit applications for Android-based smartphones, according to a company blog post.

The applications will be sold on the Amazon Appstore for Android, which the company expects to launch later this year, according to information on Amazon’s developer portal. At launch, the Appstore will be available for customers in the U.S., and it will be compatible with Android 1.6 and higher. Users will be able to shop for applications from their PCs, which isn’t possible with the existing version of Android Market, or from their smartphones, and pay with their existing Amazon account. The store will carry free and paid applications.

Compared to Android Market, Amazon’s store will offer more information about applications. Product page will be able to display an unlimited number of images, detailed product descriptions, and up to five two-minute videos per product, according to Amazon.

To submit applications, developers first need an Amazon account. Amazon recommends creating a new account for the Appstore Developer Program. Joining the program will cost US$99 a year, compared to Google’s one-time $25 registration fee for Android Market. However, Amazon will waive the fee during the first year of the program.

Amazon reserves the right to set retail prices for applications, although developers may indicate a “list price” which must be less than or equal to the list price for all current and previous versions of the app, whether on Amazon Appstore or elsewhere. Amazon will pay developers 70 percent of the purchase price of the application or 20 percent of the list price, whichever is greater.

Unlike Google, Amazon will have an approval process for applications submitted to its store. The company will be testing the apps to verify that they work as outlined in the product description, and that they don’t impair the functionality of the smartphone or put customer data at risk once installed, Amazon said. Offensive content, including pornography, is prohibited. What Amazon deems offensive “is probably about what you would expect,” it says. Amazon will also stop applications that infringe user’s privacy.

Amazon isn’t the only company that is launching its own store for Android. Mobile operators such as Orange are also looking to compete with Android Market.

The availability of multiple application stores is not necessarily a good thing from a usability standpoint, if it means users have to look for an application they want in multiple places, said Mark Newman, chief research officer at Informa Telecoms and Media. However, the availability of competing application stores will help Android’s market share grow, he said.

Amazon will have to hit a moving target: Google has been improving Android Market with a new user interface, larger file sizes and longer product descriptions.

In December, the company also added carrier billing for AT&T’s subscribers. The buying experience is one part of Android Market that developers want Google to improve. Google also offers T-Mobile US subscribers carrier billing, and will continue to partner with more carriers on billing, it said.

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