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Amazon launches Underground store with free Android apps


Amazon has launched Amazon Underground, a shopping app on Android that doubles up as an app store. The app claims to offer various paid games and apps on Google Play as free apps on its platform. Amazon claims various titles like Goat Simulator, Photo Suite, along with in app purchases for titles like Angry Birds, Frozen Free Fall etc., will be available for free. 

Developers will continue to generate revenues via their app. However, Amazon will pay developers on a ‘per minute of app usage’ basis in exchange for waiving the normal in-app fees. Amazon even offers developers a revenue forecast calculator to compare their potential earnings in Google Play vs Amazon’s store. Users can download the Underground app by visiting its webpage on their Android smartphones and following the instructions. The app isn’t available from the Play Store.

We tried out the app, and strangely, the app did not display any other apps to download at all. Eventually we found the app listings after switching our country to the US (from India). Sadly, none of the paid apps were available for download for free (I wanted Goat Simulator), so we presume the offer only applies to the US and select countries in Europe. Interestingly, Amazon mentions that this is not a one off promotion and is a long term program, so there is hope it will be extended to other countries like India eventually.

Amazon’s Play: So how does Amazon benefit from all this? Well the Underground app is primarily a replacement for the default Amazon shopping app. Basically, along with free apps, the platform displays pretty much the rest of Amazon as well. Users can shop for regular products as they would search on Amazon’s primary app (downloaded through the Play Store). Not only that, the Underground app, simply labeled Amazon, replaces the primary Amazon app.

Amazon benefits each time a user opens its app store instead of Google Play, as it can then advertise the regular products it offers. As per this Ars Technica report, Amazon also provides in-app purchases for free, while making it clear how much the user saves because of the company, a subtle form of in-app advertising.

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The good: The good thing about this is that users get apps for free, while developers get paid by Amazon. Additionally, developers are indirectly incentivized to stop creating ‘pay to win’ games, and can move on to create more fun games instead. For users, free apps are always a good thing, with the trade off being having to view Amazon products everywhere.

The bad: Amazon’s new app requires an unreal number of permissions. This includes read phone status and identity, receive and send text messages, take pictures and videos, record audio, GPS location, access to contacts, connect/disconnect from WiFi networks, control flashlight and vibration and to add and remove programs. Other than this really seems like a win-win for all; developers, Amazon and users, especially those users that don’t mind advertising too much and trust Amazon with phone permissions.

Our Amazon coverage here.

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