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Amazon Appstore goes live, goes down, comes back up

Amazon's answer to the Android Market is now up and running, despite some early hiccups.

According to Android Police, the Amazon Appstore for Android went live earlier tonight for around 30 minutes before being taken down for an unknown reason. By 8AM EST, the site was back online.

For those who have shopped on any of Amazon's portals, the Appstore (how long the site retains that moniker remains to be seen), will look familiar, with apps divided into logical categories, best seller, paid and free sections. Pages for individual apps are laid out in a similar manner to any other product on Amazon, with screenshots, ratings and product descriptions all present and accounted for.

Amazon will also screen every app before allowing it to appear on the Appstore, an approach far closer to that taken by Apple and a definite step away from the relatively open submission process for the Android Market.

In terms of design, it will largely come down to individual taste, but to this writer the Amazon Appstore appeared much cleaner and easier to navigate than Google's ''native'' offering.

For the next 19 hours, visitors to the store will be greeted with a free copy of Angry Birds Rio, the much-hyped, movie-themed, Amazon-exclusive version of the popular mobile game. For those of you on the Apple side of the fence, the game also launched today on iOS. Amazon will offer one paid app for free each day.

Purchasing apps requires the installation of the Amazon Appstore app on your device, as well as an Amazon account. Users will also need to follow a few simple steps to enable apps to be installed from ''unknown sources''.

Checkout is handled using the company's existing payment infrastructure. The need to install an app before making purchases on the Appstore would seem to contradict a report last month that apps would be able to be purchased from Amazon's store without an Android device and installed at a later date.

But by far the most distinctive feature for many users will be ''Test Drive''. As the name suggests, the feature allows users to test out apps in a browser before purchasing or downloading them to an Android device. Much of Test Drive's front-end uses Flash, while the back-end code runs on Amazon's cloud infrastructure. As of 8AM EST, however, Amazon still appeared to be working out a few kinks - Test Drive worked briefly before all references to the feature disappeared from the Appstore.

Behind the scenes, Amazon is also working to differentiate itself, giving developers 70% of the sale price of the app or 20% of the list price, whichever is greater. The list price is set by the developer when they submit their app and essentially equates to the apps ''Recommended Retail Price''.

Amazon also reserves the right to set app prices themselves, even to the point of making a previously paid app free, though in that case the company guarantees the developer will still get 20% of the list price. With apps able to be listed on both the Android Market and Amazon's store simultaneously, the implication here is that Amazon will have the power to discount apps to make their own offerings more attractive to users.

While Amazon's entry into the world of app stores is certainly attractive, it is not without caveats. Those outside the US are out of luck, as are AT&T customers, though Amazon says it is working with the carrier to fix that. Curiously, download pages also feature a warning that ''some apps will only work on an Android device that has root-level permissions'', before warning that the company ''does not encourage you to root your phone.''

If Amazon can leverage its brand power to get its app store onto Android devices, Google's offering could be in serious trouble, though at present the search giant has the distinct advantage of being the only app store installed by default on every Android phone. It's highly likely Amazon is working feverishly behind the scenes to change that situation.

Image Credit: Android Police

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