Saturday, August 29, 2015

Amazon Underground: A new feature that offers normally Paid-Android apps that are "Actually Free" - no tiered-level costs added - for both Android tablets and Kindle HD-HDX tablets. UPDATE-1 (how developers get paid + more info)

AMAZON UNDERGROUND: $10,000 worth of "Actually Free" apps and games replace Free Amazon App of the Day

Huge change to Amazon's former "Free Android App of the Day" feature.  It's gone.  In its place is Amazon Underground app.

  The first stories I read left me unclear on what this actually means for customers and how this will work.

Amazon, though, has a suitably underground-looking graphic on its Amazon Underground page.  While you can read it easily on a desktop or larger tablet, it's harder to see on a phone or smaller tablet.   I found a text copy of it and am including it here for much easier reading and I've highlighted the more important aspects of the new feature.

  I was glad to see that the apps that are designated 'Actually Free' -- despite these apps normally having paid tiers -- will be automatically available on the Kindle Fire HD and HDX tablets as well as on any Android tablet.

' Dear Customers,

Amazon Underground is a new app for your Android phone. It has all of the functionality of our regular Amazon mobile shopping app... plus an exciting addition: over ten thousand dollars in apps, games and in-app items that are actually free.

Many apps and games that are marked as "free" turn out not to be completely free. They use in-app payments to charge you for special items or to unlock features or levels. In Underground, you will find 100% free versions of popular premium titles like OfficeSuite Professional 8, Goat Simulator, and PhotoSuite 4 and popular titles with in-app purchases like Frozen Free Fall, Star Wars Rebels: Recon Missions, Angry Birds Slingshot Stella, Looney Tunes Dash! and many more.

We’ve made this possible by working out a new business model with app and game developers: we’re paying them a certain amount on a per-minute played basis in exchange for them waiving their normal in-app fees. To be clear, we’re the ones picking up those per minute charges -- so for you it’s simply free. Just look for apps and games marked with an "Actually Free" banner.

Normally you’d go to Google Play to download an Android app onto your phone. But Google’s rules don’t allow an app that offers apps or games to be included in Google Play.  So, you need to download the Underground app directly from

  (Underground apps and games are automatically available on Fire HD and Fire HDX tablets.)

One last point on this. The Amazon Underground app is a long-term program rather than a one-off promotion. Over time, we’ll continue to invent and add more benefits to Underground. For now, enjoy some actually free apps and games!'

This is quite a challenge to Google Play!

Amazon adds, on their Amazon Underground webpage that there are two ways to Get the Amazon Underground App.

  Visit from your Android Phone
  Enter your email or mobile number to receive a link to download

NOTE: After posting this so you can see this sooner, I'll add any interesting aspects I become aware of that are not covered here, so bookmark this blog entry for more information as it goes.

Mainstream tech sites are still exploring what this actually means for customers and for developers both and Amazon is being more open on how they've been able to offer this and what the details are that encouraged developers to allow offering the apps for free and what those incentives are.  One factor is that developers found that customers are not eager to pay at each new level reached.
Wired.Com writes:
  ' More recently, and far more dramatically [than with Apple's recent Pay Once and Play], Amazon introduced Underground, an Android app that contains a huge number of traditionally paid or freemium apps that will cost its users absolutely nothing to use ...

  ' "For many customers we were hearing that sometimes it’s frustrating when you’re involved in a game and have to stop and make a transaction,” says Amazon Appstore director Aaaron Rubenson. “What we realized is that a model like the one we rolled out in Underground, where customers can simply download and use all of the features of a given app, or explore a game without having to worry about transactions in the middle… would be wonderful for customers.”
  ' “In general, the industry has to think about how to innovate on the business model.”

' Which brings us back to Amazon Underground, the most aggressive innovation of that sort you’re likely to see.
' ... It’s also why, while Amazon footing the bill for both its customers and developers is a genuine win-win, it’s not no-brainer.  It’s also not a model you’re likely to see anyone else replicate any time soon. '

That Wired article is a long, analytical look at this. Read the rest here.

AndroidPolice has detail on how developers will be paid by Amazon.
' ... the gist of it is that developers will be paid 1 penny for every 5 minutes an Underground customer is using their app.
'For some, this could work out really well on the development side of things.  It's not out of the question for certain types of games to have individual users reach 100 hours of gameplay, which would make you $12 on one person. Amazon's example is getting users for 4 hours per month, netting a developer roughly $0.50 per user each month until they quit using the app. There will probably be some big winners here since they won't ever stop making money from the people using their app.

'Still, users who play a freemium game that much are also those most likely to splurge on big IAPs [In-App Purchases]. The question some developers have to answer is whether Underground will attract the huge spenders that their app may depend on, cutting off major sources of income, or if it will instead only bring on users who would never pay '

That article cites Ars Technica's report that, for Amazon's part (how do they not lose money on this?), the Underground apps are heavily ad-supported.  If an app proves more popular than before, might Amazon offer a No-Ads version? That latter would be beneficial to developers who see smaller profits from the new opt-in system.

  Another article by AndroidPolice reported a confirmation by Amazon (though I thought the announcement was clear) that apps marked "Actually Free" will have zero in-app purchases involved.
' In the game that I tested, Jetpack Joyride, the IAP items I was used to seeing had all their prices marked as zero, and processing them through Amazon resulted in a "$0.00" charge to my account. Neat.'

I'll keep watching the user response to this and the program in general and will update here if I see anything of special interest.  It's a very creative move by Amazon.

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  1. I am pleased so far with the Amazon Underground for my kindle, but I'm disappointed (and feel a touch betrayed) that they don't have this working for Fire Phone. Seems like they'd want another incentive for buying and keeping the phone. They have made it available for other Android phones. What is the reasoning behind that? Do you have a theory? I hope they change that because now I don't have FAOTD either!

    1. Holly, my personal take is that the Fire Phone is run by another team, and Amazon's features-history is that some devices get features at different times, probably because they have to make the code work with a different operating system type -- the phone is quite different from the HD-HDX tablets. While the tablets inherited some of the phone's Firefly features, it can't scan in info from business cards, for one example.

      I did read they have let go some of the phone development team at Lab 126 in California, which, at first, was interpreted as halting work on Fire Phone 2, but then another article added that it is actually a move of phone development team to Seattle, where work will continue on some aspects of it, at Headquarters.

      Hang in there. The smaller phone team moved to Seattle and it will have work to do, as Amazon has always updated its devices to get new features given to other devices, although that can be months to half a year later. With any updates that are finally made to older devices, Amazon has never talked about it in advance. It just happens. I imagine that's to keep expectations reasonable. If I find out more about this end of it, I'll add it to this blog article.

    2. I should add that apps that the Kindle Fire tablets had, earlier, like HBO Go, reached Fire TV and Fire TV Stick much later, some of it having to do with what was not allowed on TV streaming. Depends on source and streaming companies' dictates.. The Kindle Fire tablets got HBO Go in June 2012 but this didn't get released for Fire TV until December 2014.

      However, apps that the Fire TV did not have yet, I found I could get displayed on my old Sony HDTV (2004) by using my Kindle Fire HDX to "mirror" the app from the tablet to my Fire TV box, and the mirroring-display is excellent.

      The Fire Stick gets most apps that the Fire TV has but tends to get it later. For example, while HBO Go reached Fire TV December 2014, the Fire Stick didn't get HBO Go until March 2015.

  2. Why can't I get a working link for Amazon Underground to my email for my Kindle Fire HD?

    1. Anonymous, I'd quoted Amazon's intro point that "Underground apps and games are automatically available on Fire HD and Fire HDX tablets."

      It's built-in for your device, so you don't have to do anything. Just go to the Amazon appstore and you'll see them with the labels I mentioned in the article.

      Hope you can find them... Let me know if you still have a problem.

  3. My brither has an old refurbished kindle fire and I have an HD 6, and only I have the actually free stuff on my kindle. Is the amazon underground only available to newer kindles?

    1. Anonymous,
      At first, only the HD and HDX Kindle Fire tablets could access Amazon Underground. Your brother probably has a model released earlier than the HD's (before September 2012). So, the last 3 years of Kindle Fires can do the Underground feature, Sept 2012 through the current ones.

      The *one* NON-HD Kindle Fire tablet that CAN access Amazon Underground is the new $50 Fire ( Your brother is probably a good candidate for that new model, which also has an up-to-128GB SD Card slot, which makes up for its having only 8GB of internal storage space.

  4. I have an HD 7 Seventh generation. Underground appears on my old kindle but not on my new one.


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