Amazon Underground & The Search For An Attractive Environment For Apps

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It is surprising that Amazon has such a hard time getting apps onto its Fire OS devices given that:

  • Fire OS is a fork of Android making it as easy as possible for developers to bring Android apps to Amazon’s multitouch devices.
  • Amazon has a lot of banking details of potential customers already in its system. An advantage Apple’s iOS has over Android as well (Google does not come close to owning the amount of banking details Apple and Amazon have.) and something which should matter for Fire OS. (This is one of the reasons revenue by app is so much higher on iOS than it is on Android.)

In theory Amazon should be very attractive to app developers. But, for reasons unknown, it is not. At least not as much as it should be.

This lack of apps is essentially the main reason the Fire Phone flopped so colossaly.

To make its devices work -to make them attractive- Amazon has to remedy this. And they are working hard and creatively at that.

One experiment Amazon is running is ‘Amazon Underground’, which they started a few months ago.

From the current pr release:

Amazon Underground is a new app for Android phones, available exclusively from Amazon, which offers a large selection of popular apps and games for free (including in-app items). In Underground, customers don’t have to pay for premium apps, or download a free app and spend money to complete a level more quickly, get more lives, or unlock new features. Everything is completely free.

(..)

Amazon Underground launched in August and includes all of the functionality of the regular Amazon mobile shopping app, plus an exclusive selection of 100% free apps, games, and associated in-app items, including popular games like Angry Birds Slingshot Stella, Goat Simulator, Frozen Free Fall, Looney Tunes Dash! and many more.

There are ads within the app but the main reason this app exists is to get Amazon into mobile developers minds. Developers get paid per usage (per minute) of their apps. It sounds like a great alternate revenue model for mobile games.

It also certainly helps that Amazon’s regular mobile shopping app is part of the Underground app. It is like creating an incentive to install the shopping app on Android devices by building around it an internal app store with a unique app revenue model that is attractive to end users. (Free!)

Unfortunately, as is so often the case with Amazon, even positive numbers are only reported in relative not in absolute terms. From the pr release:

“We’ve been thrilled with the performance of Jetpack Joyride and Fruit Ninja as part of the Amazon Underground program in the month since launch,” said Shainiel Deo, CEO of Halfbrick Studios. “Thus far we have doubled the downloads and revenue from our apps in the Amazon Appstore and most interestingly, customers are engaging with our in-app purchase content within our games at an extremely high rate. Since all in-app purchases are free in Amazon Underground, they can play the games in new and exciting ways.”

“We included four of our popular titles in Amazon Underground at launch, aimed at reaching as many fans as possible in the Amazon ecosystem,” said Tero Raji, SVP of Game Business at Rovio. “In the first month since launch of these games, the Amazon Underground model has brought us up to three times more revenue compared to the same games’ user revenue in the Amazon Appstore previously.”

These ‘numbers’ are meaningless.

If developers don’t know the size of the addressable market on one platform they will be hesitant to support it. Even if supporting it doesn’t take a lot of time and effort.1

If the Fire tablets sell as well as Amazon wants us to believe they would be wise to publish sooner rather than later a concrete number of Fire tablets in use.

The app ecosystem needed for the Fire OS to be relevant can not be treated like the publishers are with the Kindle. Those ecosystems are completely different. There is a large number of app developers big (like AirBnB) and small (like the game developers mentioned by Amazon) that have to be convinced Fire OS is worthwhile and will stay so.

If they are not, a large part of Amazon’s hardware strategy could stagger and come to a halt.


  1. Additionally to an existing Android version of the app. 

One comment

  1. […] At one point in the past management at Amazon decided to release as few numbers as possible to the public. This is unfortunate not just for us analysts but also for example for Amazon’s platform ambitions as we discussed here: […]

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