New Android App Store by Amazon will increase number of mobile medical apps

Last week, Amazon’s Android App Store went online. It may turn out to be a significant development for the Android app economy — especially for developers of medical apps made for Android phones and tablets.

At its launch, the Amazon Appstore will have less than 5,000 apps, a fraction of Google’s Android Marketplace. In fact, currently the major iOS and Android medical apps (Epocrates, Medscape, etc) are not yet available in the Amazon store. But this will no doubt grow over time. The pricing model is also slightly different from Google’s Android Marketplace, with Amazon paying developers 70% of the sale price of the app or 20% of the list price, whichever is greater, to allow for promotional pricing.

Almost at the same time that Amazon was announcing the launching of their app store, Google announced  they were delaying release of the source code for Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the version optimized to run on tablets.

The unmistakable e-commerce prowess of Amazon now driving its own Android app store has added fuel to the speculation that Amazon is planning its own Android tablet to replace the Kindle. Could Google be trying to reassert control over its own ecosystem by holding back the source code to Honeycomb ? While many were disappointed by this seeming reversal on an “open” platform, Andy Rubin, head of Google’s Android group, said the reason for the delay was simply related to the rush to ship the tablet version,  saying “Android is an open-source project … We have not changed our strategy.”

The entry of Amazon into the Android app market makes sense – they are masters at distributing digital content – think of the Kindle and eBooks.  So why get into the mobile app space now?

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The market for mobile apps is booming.  Apple’s App Store alone generated an estimated $2.86 billion last year. Amazon will no doubt want a piece of that.  In addition, Amazon will want to cement its position as the place to “find everything”.  Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Amazon can now learn the buying behavior of millions of mobile Android app customers –  data that can be used to benefit the rest of their online store.

Currently, the medical section of the Amazon Appstore shows a paltry 45 apps, and even those are relegated to a subsection of the Health and Fitness category. However, the experience of shopping online, using the familiar and well designed Amazon user interface, was pleasant. In order to use the Amazon Android Store, you must first download the Amazon App Store application to your device. However, once that is done, you can purchase any app on line and quickly send it to your device by simply entering your email address (right).

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Steve Jobs said at the iPad 2 launch on March 2nd that the iTunes App Store now has over 200m customers with credit cards, possibly the largest collection on the internet. But, in the next sentence he added, “Now Amazon doesn’t publish their numbers”.  It may well be that Amazon is the only other company that can match that number.

Furthermore, people are already in the habit of shopping on Amazon, while most associate Google with “free”. Many medical app developers have held out on developing on the Android platform because of lower revenues compared to the iOS platform.  With its highly refined recommendation engine driving app sales, Amazon could well change this and become a major competitor to the ITunes App Store.

Still, the tight integration between iTunes and iOS is still a major advantage for Apple when compared, for example, to the somewhat awkward experience of uploading and playing music on a smartphone using the recently announced Amazon’s Music CloudPlayer. Furthermore, while Amazon clearly has been building out its Amazon Web Services, Apple may be making some important moves into the cloud itself this Fall with iOS 5, if rumors are to be believed.

If Amazon is able to leverage millions of their customers properly and solve the very real issue of app discovery, the Amazon Appstore could be the best thing to have happened to the Android ecosystem.


Felasfa Wodajo, MD

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6 Responses to New Android App Store by Amazon will increase number of mobile medical apps

  1. drrjv April 4, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    While some may be waiting for Android to surpass Apple, it appears that there are cracks already forming in the so called Android onslaught:

    “The complaints come down to Google being unpredictable, unavailable, unresponsive, with the biggest complaint being that the related efforts aren’t profitable for anyone but Google. Even the application developers, with one exception , are saying they are losing money with Google, but not with Apple. Google’s soon to be ex-CEO Eric Schmidt seemed incredibly pleased that his Android group was profitable, but given this information, this is false profit. Google appears to be starving Android into obsolescence.”

    Even the so called ‘open’ thing with Google and Android seems to be out:

    “Google is failing to make good on that whole “we’re open” thing. According to the Wall Street Journal , Google has decided to hold off on releasing Honeycomb code for developers because it isn’t “yet ready to be altered.” “

  2. Jim April 20, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    While I would love to see a plethora of medical apps available for all platforms, I don’t see how simply opening an app store is going to increase the number of mobile medical apps for Android.

    Compared to the iOS platform, development for Android is much more fractured. For a developer, making an iOS app compatible with both iPhone/iPod and iPad formats is rather trivial. The same cannot be said for Android developers, as there are many flavors of Android that act differently depending on the hardware being used. Google has little control over that. In addition, the tablet OS for Android will be different than what is available for the smartphones that utilize it.

    Developers have to test their apps on a much wider array of devices to ensure that they run properly.
    The fact that Amazon has opened an app store does not change any of that.

    • Felasfa Wodajo April 20, 2011 at 11:28 am #

      Please refer to Dan Rhon (Clinically Relevant) interview published here on 4/18 regarding the current attractiveness of the Android market to medical app developers.

      Fragmentation on the Android platform is more of problem for game makers and device-centric software such as radiology viewing apps seeking FDA approval – see interview with Mark Cain, CTO of MIM Software – than text based apps.

      Developers will gravitate where they can get a market for their apps. Marketplaces are not created equally, service and amenities count. If a better store brings more buyers, more sellers will follow.

      • Jim April 20, 2011 at 11:56 am #

        thanks, I’ve only just started exploring this site.
        also- good point on the difference between games and text or data-based apps.

    • Rich May 25, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

      The idea of increasing the number of apps stems from each individual android market to get exclusive apps which would stimulate competition in the other. It won’t happen as developers are just publishing to both markets. Amazon just wants their share of money and a place for Amazon only apps on their upcoming Amazon Android devices. 

      The fragmentation problem is present, but very minor (I have and continue to develop for both iOS and Android) and is mainly blow out of proportion by Apple and its followers repeating the lie of it being a big problem. On top of the fact that the release of an all-in-one Android OS in Ice Cream Sandwich will kill the (minor) fragmentation problem entirely.

  3. Rich May 25, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    The Amazon app store opening and the non-disclosure of Honeycomb’s source are not related at all. Google has decided not to release the source for Honeycomb due to the (minor) fragmentation problem and is instead implementing Honeycomb and Android phone features into a single OS called Ice Cream Sandwich. A single version of the OS to work on both types of devices is the best way to go and they refuse to release the Honeycomb source in order to kill further fragmentation and remove the problem entirely with the introduction of Ice Cream Sandwich later this year.

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