Amazon, the online marketing powerhouse best known for its general merchandise, groceries, digital books, and streaming media has now entered a somewhat new market. While Amazon has had an online app store since 2008, with hundreds of thousands of paid and free Android apps, Amazon recently announced a new Android app and a feature on its website offering a wide selection of normally paid apps for free; according to Amazon, eventually more than ten thousand normally paid apps will be available for totally free download, including free future updates. Not so strangely missing from the competing ubiquitous Google Play Store, this new app with the moniker “Amazon Underground” is available directly from Amazon by connecting to amazon.com/underground from the Android device. This new Amazon app combines features from the traditional Amazon shopping app as well as the existing Amazon App Store, but also provides the user with access to the expanding catalog of otherwise “premium” (paid) apps labeled by Amazon as “Actually Free”.
Amazon is able to offer these otherwise paid apps for free because Amazon has come up with a creative way to compensate the developers for the revenue lost by giving away otherwise revenue generating apps. Amazon pays the developers a fee based on the actual use of the apps by the users, and plans on offsetting the cost by attracting more customer to its other more traditional products. Another nice feature of these “Actually Free” apps is the fact that in exchange for direct compensation from Amazon, the developers also waive the typical in-app purchases, as well as the traditional upfront charges to use their products. Since there are generally no costs involved whatsoever to download and use these otherwise paid apps, the Android user now has the ability to download potentially thousands of premium utilities, games, and other apps that otherwise would have borne a significant cost. Amazon claims that each Android user can access over $10,000 worth of apps “Actually Free” using its new Amazon Underground service. Google is apparently unhappy with this potentially strong competition from Amazon, and does not list the Amazon Underground app on its Google Play Store, thus requiring the download of the Amazon Underground app directly from Amazon.
In order to allow the Android phone or tablet to download the Amazon Underground app directly from Amazon, many users may have to modify a security setting on their device; this is accomplished by opening “Settings”, then “Security”, then “Unknown Sources – Allow installation from non-official apps.” While this is a legitimate security setting intended to prevent the user from installing possibly dangerous apps from illicit unofficial sources, it can also prevent the installation of apps from other legitimate sources such as Amazon. When “on” this otherwise legitimate security setting only allows apps downloaded from the official Google Play Store to be installed, giving Google a potentially unfair competitive edge vis a’ vis Amazon. It has been rumored in the blogs that this otherwise legitimate security concern may also restrict competition, which has supposedly attracted the attention of federal regulators, but there has been nothing official published, and there is no confirmation, only unsubstantiated speculation that this may be happening. It is up to the user to decide to allow or prevent apps to be installed from other than the Google Play Store; in order to install the free apps downloaded from Amazon Underground, this setting needs to be on “allow”.
Users may find the selection of apps available from Amazon Underground that are “Actually Free” to be quite attractive. Popular games, including several of the “Angry Birds” series, which normally generate revenue for the developers through the “in app purchases” of coins or other game tokens carry the following statement when downloaded from Amazon Underground, “This app and its in-app purchases are actually free.” Productivity and utility apps, such as the Microsoft Office compatible commercial office suites, including “Docs to Go” and “OfficeSuite Professional 8”, state in the product description that not just is the app totally free to download (many are in the $10 range on the Google Play Store), but states in the product details section “In-App Purchasing (Free with Amazon Underground).” For those of you (or your kids) who may have run up large bills while playing many of the popular games, you may find the same games that you have been playing and paying for are shown in the Amazon Underground app store as “Actually Free”, and what were “in-app purchases” are now free!
While the Amazon Underground apps can be automatically sent to the connected device from the browser based versions of the basic Amazon website, most Android users will probably use the integral Amazon Underground app to directly download and install the listed apps. The new Amazon Underground app, which incorporates all of the other more traditional Amazon products and features plus apps into this single app, has a slightly different appearance than the better known Amazon shopping app, which still remains fully functional as a shopping app, but lacks the Underground connection. While the icon for the more traditional Amazon shopping app is the well known blue and white shopping cart, the new Amazon Underground icon is a black and orange shopping cart design that simply says “Amazon”. When downloaded and installed, the new Amazon Underground app and icon replaces the older Amazon shopping icon.
To quickly find the latest listings of the “actually free” apps, open the Amazon Underground app, tap on the three parallel line menu icon on the top left corner of the display to open the detailed menu, then tap the down arrow on the right of the “Apps & Games” line in the menu, and then tap on “Underground Apps & Games”. The screen will now show a series of featured apps and games, divided into self explanatory categories. Among the categories displayed, each of which can be “slid” to the left to display more apps in that particular category, are “Featured actually Free Apps and Games”, “Actually Free Kids Apps & Games”, “Apps & Games Biggest Savings”, “Actually Free Productivity & Lifestyle”, “Top Amazon Underground Apps”, “Recommended for You”, and “All Underground.” On the top right corner of each category is a link that says “See All” which will open another page displaying a lengthy list of all of the “Actually Free” apps under that category.
The category titles are reasonably self explanatory, and do not require any articulation to disclose their contents. In the “Actually Free Kids Apps & Games” are dozens of popular kids games that have also appealed to many adults, including several of the Angry Birds series; I have one adult acquaintance who has been a regular player of one of these Angry Birds games, almost to the point of an expensive addiction; while still somewhat addictive, the exact same game downloaded and installed from Amazon Underground would not bear any of the substantial cost that she has been paying for the same game elsewhere. In her case, the statement on the game app page “In-App Purchasing (Free with Amazon Underground)” would be a big money saver for her, as well as those concerned about their kids racking up large game app bills. While possibly appealing to a more mature audience, the more adult oriented game apps such as the slot machine apps, “Deal or No Deal”, and other similar game apps from Underground can waste just as much time as the same apps downloaded from the Google Play Store, but will not have the associated fiscal costs of playing them, lessening the burden these games can place on the individual.
I will admit that as attractive as many of the games are, I am not a gamer. The Underground apps that most appealed to me, which I downloaded and installed from Amazon Underground were in the “Actually Free Productivity & Lifestyle” category. Pleading guilty, I had previously been using one of the office utilities that I downloaded from the Google Play Store, but did not take advantage of its advanced features because of the cost of the “In-App Purchases” which would enable the enhanced functionality of that app, with each additional function costing from $2 to $10. After seeing the identical app on Amazon Underground without all of the extra fees, I uninstalled the app from the Google Play Store, and then downloaded the same app from Amazon Underground; I now have the complete functionality of that utility without any additional expense! In this “Productivity & Lifestyle” group are several complete office suites that are fully compatible with Microsoft Office products, PDF utilities, comprehensive photo and video editing suites, map and road routing apps, financial and budgeting apps, weather apps, calendar and task managers, password managers, music synthesizers, workout helpers, and other useful apps.
This is not a short term promotion being offered by Amazon, as Amazon has stated that this new “Underground” service will not just remain available, but will be greatly expanded to offer many more apps than just those currently listed. With hundreds of “Actually Free” apps now available, and potentially thousands more to be added in the foreseeable future, the Google Play Store may face some serious competition from Amazon Underground in the lucrative market for paid apps. The users of paid apps downloaded from Google may find the same Amazon Underground “Actually Free” apps which also waive the infamous “In-App Purchase” fees most attractive. Move over Google; there is a new sheriff in town.