Amazon debuts Android app store in China

Updated: 2013-05-07 11:10

By Yu Wei in San Francisco (China Daily)

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Amazon Inc launched its Android application store offering free and paid apps in China over the weekend, beating Google Inc in an attempt to capitalize on the world's largest smartphone market.

Amazon, which introduced the Kindle e-book store in China in December, became the first Western company to offer a paid Android apps platform in the Middle Kingdom. With an Amazon account, users will be able to download applications in its stores and developers can also sell their software to users in China beginning on Monday. Google's application store only offers free apps in China.

Amazon has run an e-commerce operation in China for years and has slowly expanded its presence in China recently. Amazon announced last month that it would expand its global app distribution to almost 200 markets in the coming months.

As Amazon rolls out its expansion, it should surpass Google Play and Apple iOS, which support 132 and 155 markets, respectively, according to mobile app analytics company App Annie.

"Many of our existing developers have localized their apps and games for international consumers, and we look forward to working with new developers that have been waiting to bring their apps to more Amazon customers across the globe," said Mike George, vice-president of apps and games at Amazon, last month.

China surpassed the US last year to become the largest smartphone market in the world. Amazon will have to jostle with scores of Chinese rivals offering paid and free apps, some of which are pirated.

San Francisco-based mobile applications research company Flurry Analytics said that the number of activated smartphones in China reached 246 million units by the end of February.

App Annie also said since its launch in March 2011, Amazon has amassed over 75,000 apps. Amazon is looking to catch up with iOS, which has more than 800,000 and launched in July 2008, and Google Play, which has more than 600,000 and launched in October 2008.

"If Amazon manages to get nice traction, I think they are indeed in an advantage for foreign developers like us," said Christoph Thr, CEO of the Swedish startup Ovelin, which focuses on the Chinese market.

But Jason Hong, associate professor at the Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, said it could be tough for Amazon because of its lack of a strong reputation in China and its relatively late arrival to the market.

"Amazon is a little late to the game in China. There are already several for-pay app markets that are better known and have a lot of apps," Hong said.

Lisa Hanson, managing partner and founder of research firm Niko Partners, said Amazon may or may not have a strong name in China yet, but the main problem is not name recognition. Hanson said the company's main issue is the vastly fragmented market in China.

"I think Amazon will have a challenge in China, but no more of a challenge than any of the other 500-plus Android app stores that are already there. The market is so fragmented that attracting users will be difficult," Hanson said.

Google's official application store, Google Play, isn't widely available in China. The majority of Chinese Android apps are downloaded from a number of alternative application stores.

"One of Amazon's benefits to Chinese mobile app consumers will be that it will likely employ a system to provide quality apps. The company's global reputation is too strong to do anything other than provide quality apps on its app store in China," Hanson said."Amazon is a trusted name in the West so foreign developers will likely gravitate there. On the other hand, there are mobile app publishers in China who cater to Western developers and already publish games onto Chinese app stores."

Two examples Hanson gave are Yodo1, a Beijing-based company that helps gaming companies enter the Chinese iOS and Android app market, and iDreamSky, a smartphone application developer in China.

"These companies succeed by 'culturalizing' Western games for China and by taking pride in quality assurance," she said.

Hanson said whether or not Chinese consumers will want to purchase or download apps from Amazon will depend on the content and the marketing.