With Underground App, a New Android Push from Amazon

Posted on August 26, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 0

With Underground App, a New Android Push from Amazon

Amazon has long offered its own app store for Android—cunningly named Appstore for Android—and it also surreptitiously added Android app browsing and downloading to its normal Android app recently as well. But they’re not done trying to usurp the Google Play Store: This week, Amazon has launched a new shopping app for Android called Underground. And it’s bribing, sorry, enticing users to use it instead of Play by offering what it says is “over $10,000 in apps, games, and in-app items that are actually free.”

According to Amazon, the Underground app sits behind a new business model for app and game developers, which have recently rallied around the freemium model, where a “free” app or game isn’t really free but instead uses in-app payments to gouge users. With Underground, free apps are really free—apps like OfficeSuite Professional 8, Goat Simulator and PhotoSuite 4—because Amazon is paying developers based on per-minute app and game usage. That is, Amazon is paying for these apps and games. They’re just free to users.

There has to be a catch, right? Well, yes, sort of. The catch is that you use Amazon’s Undergound app—i.e. its Amazon app store—and not Google Play to acquire new apps and games. Amazon just wants you to use their store.

“The Amazon Underground app is a long-term program rather than a one-off promotion,” Amazon explains. “Over time, we’ll continue to invent and add more benefits to Underground. For now, enjoy some actually free apps and games.”

Interesting. I suspect that the motive here may also involve switchers. A lot of people using iPhones or Windows phones cite the cost of reacquiring apps and games as a key reason for not switching. Assuming the right offerings are free in Underground, this could put some potential switchers over the top.

All you gotta do is download the app. Hm.

Intrigued by this, I did so. (You also have to make sure your Android device is set up to allow app installs from untrusted sources, unless of course you’re using a Fire device for some reason.) And while I’m certainly no expert in which Android apps and games are abusing the freemium model the most, Underground does make it easy to find those games, “really for free,” in a special “Underground Apps” view of the store. (You can also see “all apps and games.”)


The Editor’s Pick area has games like Candy Crush Saga, Gangstar Vegas, Frontline Commando, and Deer Hunter 2014, and many, many others for free, plus paid games like Minecraft: Pocket Edition and Card Wars. Not being familiar with freemium apps, I looked up some that Amazon mentions in its announcement. PhotoSuite Pro 4, for example, is normally $5 but is free through Underground.

Well, not “free.” When you launch this app, an Amazon advertisement appears before you can access the app. Will these ads now just pop-up from time to time? Hm.


Update: According to Amazon, users will occasionally see an ad image pop up when they open an Amazon Underground app. Primarily that ad will provide information describing the Amazon Underground program and serve as a ‘how-to’ for customers. Other times it will show a house-ad promoting an Amazon product or category, or a third party ad marketed through the Amazon ad network. –Paul

My understanding is that this new app also replaces the daily free app Amazon had been offering ever since it opened Appstore for Android. I kind of like the ability to browse a collection of free titles rather than having to check in every day, but it’s not clear if this is like Netflix—you’re stuck with what they have at the moment—or something that grows (rather than just changes) over time.

It is an interesting approach nonetheless. One naturally wonders if Microsoft couldn’t do something similar to get Android developers to port their apps to Windows Phone and monetize them more effectively.

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