When announcing its latest app initiative Wednesday, Amazon italicized the fact that apps and games in the new “Amazon Underground” section “actually free” for Android devices. That means users can make in-app purchases for all the chapters, items, options, and “energy” they want, while developers get pennies every hour in exchange for giving up their beloved plan for the generating revenue.
Amazon Underground promises that its offerings are real, genuine and completely free. Formerly paid apps cost nothing, while former freemium apps no longer call users for no matter how many in-app purchases they make. Do you want fifty trillion “coins” that normally cost $100 in real money, or free versions of productivity software, solid games like Goat Simulator, or children’s food from the Sesame Workshop? They are up for grabs. Amazon reminds you how much you’re not paying at every checkout option.
While you’d expect developers to launch social media campaigns to get scammed with this new system, Amazon made it very clear that game and app makers whose livelihoods depended on IAPs would still be paid: “We pay developers a certain amount on a per minute played in exchange for waiving their normal in-app fees,” the company’s announcement said. “We’re the one picking up that cost per minute.”
The public announcement itself didn’t clarify how much developers would get paid, but an Amazon developer website confirmed the amount: $0.002 per minute of use, or one cent for every five minutes. The company also went so far as to offer interested developers a revenue calculator to determine whether this model would make a company more money than traditional purchases.
We’ve grabbed a few good IAP-powered Underground apps:Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride— and went on pseudo-spend, only to see that Amazon did indeed foot the bill, letting us know how many dollars we had would spent on ridiculous numbers of in-game coins. In fact, we could log in online, make those purchases, and then go into airplane mode and play the games (while spending in-game coins) without Amazon interference.
As the dev resource site states, Amazon Underground apps track usage both online and offline (which counts as “the amount of time an Android activity for your app is open and active in the foreground of a mobile device”) and then upload that data to Amazon’s servers once they connect to the internet again to determine how much app makers should be paid. Developers are warned that if an app crashes, the tracked stats may not be sent to Amazon, so good luck to all developers struggling with the thorny Android ecosystem.
(Worth noting: The dev resource site for Amazon Underground also talks at length about best practices for changing IAP systems if completely free IAPs were to break a given game’s challenge or replayability, and it’s fascinating reading. In particular, we commend Amazon for telling its Underground developers to remove it all timer countdowns for unlocking certain types of game content.)
Still, we have to wonder why Amazon would pay such a potentially hefty bill – a bill they advertise as “over $10,000 in free apps and games”? It may have something to do with the new gateway to the Amazon Underground roster – which means the free games and app content are priced at hella Amazon product ads – but the company’s new app shows just how bloated it is. Amazon ecosystem has become.
Wait, what app am I using?
The new app, simply titled Amazon, requires a direct download from Amazon’s site, along with the requirement to change Android settings to allow installation of apps from “unknown developers”. This was also how the company’s Amazon App Store app worked. Recall that Amazon launched its own App Store app with a “free app of the day” promotion to encourage people to jump through the installation hoops.
The old App Store still works, but the free app banner has been replaced with a promo for Amazon Underground (and the new, required app). Once you load up the new app, you’ll find the same App Store functionality, including sales charts and “my apps” cloud listings, but the interface now mirrors the Amazon Shopping app, meaning it offers big, bright suggestions and offers for real – life products.
Prepare for more confusion: Today’s new app is completely different from December’s new Amazon shopping app, which is called Prime Now. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber and live in a region where Amazon delivers products within an hour or two hours, you can use the app to look up quick-ship goods (as of yesterday, that means booze at the company’s home base or Seattle) and order them. This app is doing exist on iOS devices, which is good, because you cannot make such Prime Now purchases through a standard web browser. However, the exclusive Android app makes no mention of Prime Now.
Today’s new app also contains video listings from both the paid and Amazon Prime catalogs – and you can use this app to purchase videos – but as soon as you try to watch any of these, you’ll be told to go back and download the Amazon Instant Video app. Given that today’s Amazon app goes so far as to include a “Continue Watching” tab, we found this design move particularly confusing.
The new app also makes no mention of certain Amazon offerings like Prime Cloud, and it makes awkward references to opening separate apps like Prime Photos and Kindle when attempting to use such functionality. While we understand that some apps need more diverse ecosystems to work efficiently, we wonder why offerings like Amazon Local, the company’s Groupon-like service, should also remain a separate app.
In the end, the new app still shoves a lot more Amazon-related content down users’ throats than they might want, which we assume was the whole point of this massive giveaway. But the hoops required to install just this app are confusing enough. Having to juggle so many separate apps to figure out how to use Amazon is the kind of workflow confusion that would have made sense even a few years ago; in 2015, the mess is unforgivable. In the meantime, it’s a good thing we have a ton of free apps to wash away the mess with.
This article has been updated to correct errors about Amazon’s Prime Now app.