06
Jul
AmazonAppstoreLogo_thumb (1)

When we published a piece reporting on the recent decision of game developer Bithack to pull its popular title Apparatus from the Amazon Appstore, we contacted Amazon asking for comment on the whole situation.

Earlier this week, Amazon got back to us and wanted to sit down and discuss the Appstore and some of the issues that developers and customers alike have had. While Amazon could not specifically discuss the complaints of Bithack for confidentiality reasons, they were able to generally talk about some of the concerns Bithack raised.

Today, I spoke with Aaron Rubenson, Category Leader (essentially, head of business) of the Amazon Appstore. We had a discourse on some of those concerns that allowed Amazon to clarify (and justify) a few things in regard to the Appstore. This article combines what I heard from Aaron with my own commentary in order to provide context and make the whole thing somewhat understandable - as the conversation itself probably wouldn't have read too well. So, let's get down to it.

Device Filtering

If you recall from the Apparatus article, various developers have complained that the Amazon Appstore - particularly during the Free App of the Day promotion - seems to allow scores of customers to download and install apps and games which are incompatible with their respective device. The developer of Apparatus, in particular, claimed that Amazon was not utilizing the device manifest filter he provided as part of his application. He noted that some obsolete devices (which he had never even heard of) were able to download and install Apparatus, only to get an inevitable force close.

This, then, results in scores of 1-star reviews from upset customers who can’t automatically initiate a refund (ala the Market), but we’ll talk about that a bit later. While Amazon wouldn’t address Bithack’s issue directly, they responded to and expanded on the two larger issues Bithack raised. Kind of.

Device Manifest Filter

Aaron was able to share some information that you can draw your own conclusions from about how Amazon does device filtering. Amazon does, as part of the application testing process, make use of that device manifest filter provided by developers as a part of every app or game. But it was implied (note: nothing was explicitly admitted) that Amazon doesn’t consider that filter the final word in terms of which devices can run a particular app. They “do things a little differently.”

Exactly what steps Amazon takes in determining compatibility and their process in making those determinations, they weren’t able to share. But, they did acknowledge the existence of customer reviews from users that have downloaded and installed applications from the Appstore which are clearly incompatible with their respective devices. So, take what you will from that.

Purchasing From A Non-Compatible Device

In the Amazon Appstore web interface, regardless of your device, you can purchase any app from the Appstore. You’ll receive a warning if your device is incompatible with an app you’re attempting to purchase, but unlike the Android Web Market, Amazon will still let you make the purchase. However, if you then try to download and install the app on that incompatible device, the Amazon Appstore application will prevent you from doing so. But, you’re definitely given fair warning.

So, to make it crystal clear: the Amazon Appstore won’t let you download or install an app that Amazon deems incompatible with your device.

But why does Amazon even let you purchase incompatible apps, some have asked. There’s actually a really good reason: to take advantage of the Free App of the Day, special discounts, and other temporary offers so that you may download and install the app at a later date when you have a compatible piece of hardware. This really is kind of nice - particularly if there’s a killer deal on a tablet-specific app, and you don’t own a tablet, but plan to in the future.

Refunds

Refunds have been a touchy subject in regard to the Appstore since the day of its announcement. Amazon, like a certain other highly popular curated app store, has a no-return policy. It also doesn’t allow developers to initiate refunds to customers on their own. This has caused some friction for developers who are far more used to the Market’s 15-minute window, as well as the ability to manually refund any one customer’s purchase.

This means upset customers often find themselves with no recourse when they download and install an app that either doesn’t work, or is simply incompatible with their device (check out the 1-star reviews of any popular game title in the Appstore - you’ll find such complaints). But this isn’t quite the case. Amazon wants to make it known that, should you download an app that truly does not function or which is incompatible with your device, you can contact Amazon Customer Service and ask for a full refund. Typically, they’ll give it to you - you just need to ask.

Why doesn’t Amazon allow developers to make that call on an individual basis? They want a consistent customer service policy across the Appstore, and as the “seller” of those applications (as opposed to the Market, which is more of a listing service), Amazon believes they should be the ones providing that service. Is this reasoning completely compelling? I wouldn't say it's totally convincing - but, I can see where they’re coming from.

In regard to the decision not to have a return window, Amazon claims that providing a time-based refund window hurts sales for developers with apps that users often only need once or twice. This is the same sort of reasoning Google provided when it reduced the Market return window to 15 minutes, and it doesn’t sound like a philosophy Amazon’s too willing to budge on.

But what about getting in touch with a developer to give feedback? There seems to have been a lot of issues, particularly for the developer of Bithack, in this arena. In my opinion, customer-developer communication is still a somewhat problematic area in the Appstore.

Developer Contact

The developer of Apparatus was rather perplexed by the precipitous drop in customer feedback his game received once he moved it to the Appstore, aside from the many reviews written by customers.

He can likely thank the lack of a “Contact the Developer” button anywhere in the Appstore application or web interface. Amazon makes getting in touch with a developer a less than intuitive task, and provides no dedicated mechanism for direct contact. While developers can insert contact information manually in the Developer Info section of their respective app page on Amazon’s web interface, it’s fairly far down the page, and leaves customers with a process that takes more than one click in order to initiate contact.

In the mobile application, there is a well-labeled “Feedback” button on every mobile app page. Unfortunately, the Feedback button doesn’t exactly scream “Contact the Developer,” I think we can all agree. When we see a feedback option, we probably assume it’s referring to feedback for Amazon (which, considering the feedback options you’re presented with, it mostly is). But, any relevant feedback received regarding the app will be sent along to the developer - so don’t be afraid to use it.

Each app page also does have what’s called a “Discussion” area, where users can create threads and developers can respond, but it’s near the bottom of the page, where no one but the developer is likely to look in the first place. Clearly, developer-customer communication is an area of the Appstore Amazon is still refining, and, as Aaron told me, is something they’re constantly listening to feedback on and discussing.

And what about submittable application crash reports and logs? Well, Aaron couldn’t discuss specific plans about the future of the Appstore, but there wasn’t exactly a denial that this was something they had been exploring. And really, it only makes sense that they would.

Review System

Still, obviously most negative feedback will end up in the review pile, which is what we discussed next. Why? Because Amazon allows fairly long reviews to be submitted (very much unlike the Market), and the reviews section of an app page is probably where most people head to immediately. Unfortunately, developers have no way of responding to these reviews, though there are some major concerns about implementing such a feature, as Aaron explained to me.

Amazon’s customer review system is definitely a point of pride for the company, and it’s one of the major reasons for Amazon’s success over the years. I love Amazon’s review system for retail products, it helps you find the best possible product that fits your needs, because you can rely on the many helpful words of satisfied (or dissatisfied) customers.

Why are Amazon’s reviews so helpful? Because they’re community-moderated and the maker of each product can’t go in and start refuting and denying the claims of customers. It keeps the feedback “pure.” This is an extremely good point - as allowing developers to comment on user reviews could unleash a tidal wave of conflicting information and developer-customer flame wars, making reviews useless.

App Review Period

Finally, we talked about Amazon's app submission and review process - which some developers have claimed is a bit lengthy. Amazon refers to its vetting of candidate apps for the Appstore as “testing,” rather than review. Why? Amazon’s testing process is all about ensuring compatibility, safety, and functionality. Amazon isn’t out looking to enforce best practices or a consistent user experience, but rather to ensure that every application published actually works, doesn’t contain illicit or infringing software, and doesn’t compromise the safety of a user’s information.

This takes time. While Amazon does try hard to ensure updates to applications are pushed out more quickly than initial releases, some testing is still done on every submission to the Appstore. This takes more time. Aaron told me that while he definitely sympathizes with developers who are forced to wait for this process to complete, they’re generally happy how it’s worked out so far.

Not to mention, a couple weeks is still a lot quicker than Apple is, somewhat infamously, known to be during its app review process.

Wrap-Up

That about covers the length of my discussion with the Category Leader of the Amazon Appstore, Aaron Rubenson. And honestly, I can say I learned a fair bit. It’s always good to get both sides of the story - whether or not you agree with one in particular.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Adam

    This answers so much. I completely agree with your last two sentences.

  • PezLee

    I would have loved to hear their thoughts on adding an option for apps (individually or in an all or none fashion) to be excluded from reporting new installs available once the app has been uninstalled. Please consider asking about this next time you get the chance to conference, as I have received no response to my feedback.

    I understand their need to keep a record of purchases, but when I try an app and find it less than useful (or win a game, etc.), I do not want to have to install and uninstall the app again and again to clear it off my apps screen.

    Along the same lines is getting notifications for unpaid versions after deciding to buy the paid version.

  • Adam

    WRT the App Review Period...you seem to defend the position that it's acceptable for it to take a couple of weeks (or more) for them to release updates to apps. Well I have a few apps, (Yelp, CardioTrainer, etc.) that I got from the app store that are *consistently* a version or two behind what's available in the Android Market. And by "consistently", I mean the apps have been behind the app market version since the first update of each after I bought them. And while this might be okay for the free apps, as I can simply install the Market version instead, it is NOT okay for paid apps. Updates add requested features, fix bugs, and most importantly fix vulnerabilities.
    So while you may consider a little lag acceptable on occasion, (as would I if that were the case), consistent, persistent lag is NOT.

  • Josh

    In response to Adam I have not ever used the Amazon app store and I have no intent on using it. It like driving to a city that is 3 hours away to go grocery shopping when I have a grocery store next to my house. Oh and the grocery store 3 hours away does not accept refunds but the one next to my house does.

    To me its a no-brainer to use the "official" Google app store or am I missing something? I also know that the Amazon app store does the free and heavily discounted apps but I could care less.

  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    Some observations of my own:

    - Amazon continuously refuses to answer any questions regarding access to the Appstore outside the U.S. We've tried, repeatedly.

    - Part of the reason there is no refund button in the Appstore, as we were told, is the ability to test apps in the browser. However, it's not available for all apps, so I don't consider it a valid reason.

    - The Apple App Store doesn't seem to take as long as it used to anymore - the company I work for published a major update last Wednesday, and it was approved and live by Friday.

    - As for not letting developers respond to reviews, the reason Amazon gave David is completely bogus. The main problem was the dev was from a foreign country, so he couldn't buy/download his own app to gain access to comments/reviews. If he lived in the U.S., I'm confident he could respond no problem. It's a technical issue, a bug even.

    • Ben

      Location exclusivity (US only) in something I would also have liked to be part of the talk.
      I wrote Amazon an email a while ago and got the following reply (for all it's worth).

      "Hello,

      At this time, we are unable to offer the Amazon Appstore for Android and associated apps to our international customers.

      To successfully purchase digital content from Amazon Appstore for Android, the 1-Click payment method listed on Your Account (www.amazon.com/your-account) must be a credit or debit card issued by a U.S. Bank with a U.S. billing address. At this time, we are unable to support the use of international credit cards.

      We value our international customers and hope to make the Amazon Appstore for Android available internationally in the future.

      I hope this helps! We look forward to seeing you again soon.

      Did I solve your problem?"

  • http://davidtheinsane.tumblr.com/ David

    They need an international Amazon App store. Who the hell knows when Canada will get access.

    Our own Amazon.ca store sells next to nothing except books and overpriced DVDs.

  • http://www.jonathanharford.com/ Jonathan Harford

    The Amazon App Store is great -- for free daily apps. For everything else, it is (at best) unimpressive. Ever try to update a bunch of apps at once? Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Worse than the Android Market, definitely.

    And that's when it works -- I have had a number of AAS apps tell me with no warning that they'd need to be redownloaded. One was Gentle Alarm, which woke me up at 7 AM and then WOULDN'T STOP BEEPING until I (presumably) redownloaded it. (I pulled the battery on my Droid X instead.)

    There are also quite a few games (today's Fieldrunners included) that simply tell me "Application Not Installed" after I download them. I've spoken with AAS phone support (it's impressive that that exists, I admit) and they told me that it's the developer's fault in each case. I AM SKEPTICAL.

    Also... I bet you can guess what app is missing from AAS.
    https://market.android.com/details?id=bn.ereader
    I can understand why they don't want it there, but it definitely sends them message that Amazon will own your next-gen Kindle, not you. Boo.

    • montgoss

      Why would Barnes & Noble submit their app to Amazon? Or are you saying they did submit it and Amazon rejected it? If so, I'd like to hear about that.

      • Josh

        I think its just an observation.

      • Adam

        To reach as many customers as they can. Amazon has a Kindle app for all platforms for the same reason.

  • m. graham

    Concerning the review system you could not be more wrong about how this works with the app store. It does work well for their online retail business but obviously no one has really looked at how this is working with the app store.

    Take a look at the reviews of any free app of the day. Amazon's policy allows anyone to review the app regardless of whether the app is compatible with the users device or not. This is a major failure on Amazon's part as there are a lot of negative reviews due to incompatibility issues. Even when the apps description clearly states it is incompatible with some hardware, e.g. tablets, these morons will give the app a 1 star rating anyway.

    Amazon will also let anyone review the app regardless of whether they actually downloaded it or not. Once again head over to the review section of any faotd. What you will see is lots of troops giving 1 star reviews for various idiotic reasons. Some do it because they see a couple of 5 star reviews and they feel they must balance out the 5 star review that was obviously (in their mind) put there by the developer. Some do it out of pure spite. Some think they are funny as in the case today of the golf gps app - a 1 star review was given because it didn't help with bowling, another because he couldn't use it to drive home, another because he hates golf and the faotd should have been a game of mini golf. You get the picture. There are so many lies in these 1 star reviews that many future app purchases will be lost to these developers.

    Well now the next thing that happens is a bunch if people start giving 5 star reviews to "balance out the 1 star morons." And it goes on and on like this and gets worse everyday.

    The first place a consumer will go when deciding on an app purchase is the review section. The developer needs honest reviews. What is taking place at Amazon now, at least for the faotd, will have serious, negative effects for these developers. And the effects will be long lasting as those b.s. reviews will always remain attached to the app.

    Please consider revisiting this subject. Perhaps do some investigating of your own. Maybe someone at Amazon will finally listen and make much needed changes.

    I appreciate Amazon bringing their app store online and providing promotions such as the free app of the day. It's just a shame that there are so many immature, selfish people who want to ruin anything they can including small businesses.