Amazon's Android app store: Steve Jobs doesn't get it

Amazon may be days from launching an Android app store, and despite what a certain turtlenecked CEO may say, it's great news

Roll out the welcome wagon, Android fans: It looks like you'll soon have a new place to shop.

Amazon may be days away from launching its Android app store, if recent signs are any indication. The company briefly had its storefront online this week, as discovered by German website AndroidNews.de. The blog had the bright idea to pull up amazon.com/apps; there, it found a page entitled "Appstore for Android" with a list of 48 "top-selling" applications.

The page has since been taken down, but from its brief stay, we learned that Amazon's Android app store will have apps that aren't available in the main Android Market (beyond just the Angry Birds Rio exclusive Amazon had previously announced). It looks like the store will also offer cheaper prices on some common applications; several programs were marked down by as much as a couple dollars below their Android Market rates.

Amazon's Android App Store: Differing Viewpoints

In the grand scheme of things, the launch of Amazon's new app store signifies an exciting step forward for the world of Android. Think about it: This kind of high-profile competition will bring richer and more diverse options for us, the customers. And, as competition tends to do, it'll encourage competitive pricing. Remember, too, that Amazon is offering its own incentives to developers, which'll help attract new talent and drive innovation on Android even further. And the best part: If you don't like the way Amazon approaches app sales, you don't have to use its store. It's just another choice -- the first of many on the way.

What's fascinating to me is that some people, such as the CEO behind a certain competing smartphone platform, like to characterize multiple app stores on Android as a bad thing. Remember Steve Jobs' anti-Android rant from his company's earnings call last fall?

"In addition to Google's own app marketplace, Amazon, Verizon, and Vodafone have all announced that they are creating their own app stores for Android -- so there will be at least four app stores on Android, which customers must search among to find the app they want," Jobs said.

"This is gonna be a mess for both users and developers," he went on to proclaim.

Amazon's Android App Store: The Jobs Perception Problem

Here's the problem: Jobs, as usual, is looking at this through his Apple-tinted glasses. As I wrote in a friendly letter to the turtlenecked one last year, most markets -- virtual or otherwise -- do allow people to buy products from multiple providers. Choice doesn't lead to chaos (nor does it lead to unstoppable scary-virus-monster attacks, by the way -- but that's another story).

Let's translate this into a more traditional retail scenario for some perspective. Say there's a giant shoe store with thousands of shoes on its shelves. It has something for everyone; its selection is unmatched.

Now, would any of us look at that store and say it should be the only shoe store anyone's ever allowed to visit? Of course not. It may be large, convenient, and the de facto option for many families. But competing shoe stores will add diversity into the mix, offering different items and maybe better prices. They'll take advantage of their own strengths to create new kinds of value for shoppers -- better customer service, for example, or easier ways to check out. Why wouldn't we want that choice?

Competition may not be good for the retailer -- particularly when the retailer is a giant tech company that makes loads of money by owning the only store its customers can utilize -- but competition is almost always good for the consumer. For users, choice doesn't equal chaos. Choice equals power.

Android's app selection is already growing at an alarming rate -- more than three times the rate of Apple's, according to a recent analysis. The introduction of high-profile supplementary app stores like Amazon's is only going to speed up that growth, while simultaneously expanding the marketplace in new and interesting ways.

Apple can slant things however it wishes, but mark my words: This is the beginning of something big.

JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on both Facebook and Twitter.

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JR Raphael

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