March 24, 2011 | by Michael Heller
I’m sure that much like many of you, when I saw the story about the Amazon AppStore launch, I quickly installed the app to give it a whirl. My first impression was that Amazon did an amazing job gathering a quality selection of apps. The store is easy to navigate, both on the web and in the mobile app. But, Amazon isn’t making the transition an easy one, and there are a lot of small troubles with the AppStore.
Not surprisingly, the best features of the AppStore are related to curation. There are tons of categories and sub-categories, so browsing for apps is very easy. Unfortunately, the biggest trouble I’m finding is that one of the best features – the Amazon recommendation engine – has no way to scan your device to see what apps you already have installed. This means that getting recommendations requires that you either A) switch to the Amazon AppStore and wait until it builds enough of a database, or B) uninstall all your apps and reinstall via Amazon (meaning paying twice for paid apps). Amazon should have taken a cue from AppBrain and scanned my installed apps to build a recommendation list for me right out of the gate. For new users this won’t be much of an issue, but for those of us who have been building and curating our own app libraries for a while, it makes Amazon a lot less attractive for a full time switch.
Paid apps can also be a pain with Amazon for two reasons. First, there is no confirmation dialog of any kind when you click on the “purchase app” button, which means you could find yourself accidentally buying an app you didn’t want. Then, once that accident happens, there is no easy way to cancel or return the app, so it looks like all purchases are final. While I was testing the AppStore, I accidentally bought the Seekdroid app, and when I say accidentally I mean exactly that. Anyone out there with a Nexus One knows that occasionally the touch sensitivity goes wonky, and what gets activated by your touch may be a couple millimeters from where you actually touched, until you turn off the screen and turn it back on. There is a “contact customer service” option in the menu of the AppStore app, but I have still not received a response about any return options. There needs to be at least one of these options, because having no purchase confirmation and no return policy is a recipe for annoyed customers.
Lastly, Amazon needs a way to help users with uninstalling apps. Not surprisingly, the AppStore cannot uninstall apps from your phone, but what is surprising is the only thing I could find anywhere in Amazon’s help section was that an “application can be uninstalled by following the phone’s regular uninstall method.” The trouble there is that many people use the Android Market app to uninstall apps on their phone, and side-loaded apps (which is essentially what every app from Amazon is, and which is the reason AT&T has yet to allow the Amazon AppStore) don’t show up in the Android Market app, and can only be uninstalled through relatively more complex ways. I’m sure many of our readers know all about the Manage Applications menu option, or that some custom launchers allow you to uninstall by holding an app icon over the trash, but we can’t expect everyone to know these tricks.
As I said, Amazon did a great job with gathering quality apps for the store launch. Reports put the total number of apps at launch at 3,800 and you can find quality apps in many of the categories, although there is a shortage of big name games once you get past Angry Birds. Glu Mobile (Super KO Boxing 2) and GAMEVIL (Zenonia) are represented, but those are fairly old games. GAMEVIL’s newest game, Illusia, isn’t even in the store. There is also a notable lack of any tablet-specific apps or category. So far, it looks like this is a phone-only store.
The big trouble is that not all of those apps are the most update-to-date. This may be an issue with the quality control screening, but I can’t be sure. I do know that when I was doing some search result testing (covered in the next paragraph), I found that the version of the Twidroyd app in the AppStore was version 4.3. The newest version in the Android Market is version 5, and even the newest “Legacy” version in the Market is 4.3.7. Twidroyd 4.3 is a version that came before the troubles that UberMedia had with Twitter’s TOS, so that version of the app is still locked out from Twitter service, and is therefore completely useless.
Speaking of search results, the Amazon AppStore doesn’t seem to be plagued by same search issues as the official Android Market, although the Android Market is slowly getting better. As is the customary search to check the quality of results, I searched “Twitter” in the Amazon AppStore, Android Market, and AppBrain, and as always AppBrain was the clear winner. The Market came in second, showing a marked improvement from the last time I did the test, and this time showed results for Twicca, Tweetdeck, Plume, and Hootsuite. Amazon was good about showing all of the available Twitter apps on the first page of the results, with the notable exception of Twidroyd, but given the troubles mentioned above, that may not be a bad thing. Of course, when you have fewer than 4,000 apps in your store, one would hope search results would be relevant, so we’ll have to monitor this as the store grows.
The Amazon AppStore has a lot of promise, but it has also made some rookie mistakes. As the store grows, I look forward to seeing how much more value comes from the range of different app categories and sub-categories. The Amazon recommendation engine is the big inclusion, but right now it requires far too much input to be useful. The curated store is filled with good quality apps, but the selection is still quite small, and some of the apps aren’t as up-to-date as you could get in the Android Market. Amazon also needs to help users manage their apps. There either needs to be a cancellation/return policy, or a confirmation dialog before purchase, but both are missing now.
All in all, it’s a good start, but as I’ve said before, Amazon can’t rely on users going through their 8 step process to install the Amazon AppStore. It needs to be pre-loaded on devices if this is going to work.