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Amazon Unlocked could be Prime of in-app purchases

Amazon is reportedly considering rolling out a service called Unlocked that would offer unlimited access to mobile games and applications, a move that suggests features mimicking a buffet-style archetype for mobile apps could be on the rise.

The service, colloquially deemed as an Amazon Prime for mobile apps, would enable guests to access more paid content and would highlight apps and games that may previously have been passed over due to their price tag. The move would also drive up in-app purchases, a tactic that would likely satisfy many Amazon’s participating collaborators and also snatch consumers away from other app stores, such as Google Play or iTunes.

“Certainly one of the issues is that most of our customers, when deploying an Android version, don’t always put the app/product on the Amazon store, as often the numbers (in terms of downloads and revenue) justify even the small effort that it takes,” said Scott Michaels, executive vice president of Atimi, Vancouver, Canada.

“So Amazon is of course trying to bolster that perception, and they have been aggressive in offering promotion to apps that they see as worthwhile, in a bid to get them moved over so they are not just on Google Play, but also on the Amazon Appstore,” he said.

“Amazon already has a few campaigns for developer/publishers, such as being paid when Amazon makes your application free for a limited time (developer gets paid) and the campaigns they run around Amazon coins.”

Ramping up downloads
A report originally published by TechCrunch revealed that Amazon is trying to ramp up mobile app installs. Introducing the Amazon Unlocked feature would offer a plethora of paid app for free, something that would likely resonate with consumers, especially those interested in mobile gaming, and would steal competition from Apple and Google’s app stores.

“Amazon, like any retailer, needs to drive loyal doorswing: digital doorswing,” said Gary Schwartz, CEO of Impact Mobile, New York. “Free apps, drive traffic.

“The free app of the day means more mindshare and more timeshare. This of course makes for a one-click transition into Amazon Prime and other services.”

The idea of offering users a bundled package of free apps or games may be a smart incentive to bolster installs, although the novelty may eventually wear off. However, this will likely affect Google and iTunes upon its inception.

App developers will be able to choose whether to participate in the Unlocked service. If they opt not to, the apps will still be displayed in the Appstore, albeit for full price.

Users will receive app recommendations based on previous interactions with the Appstore, and will likely be able to filter searches to find only Unlocked apps if they do not wish to pay.

“We might see something similar happening in Asia, where the competition between app stores is arguably fiercer because Android penetration is higher,” said Michael Langguth, co-founder of Poq Studio, London, Britain. “Baidu, which is China’s largest search engine and offers an App Store, may try a similar strategy to boost downloads and to defer the growing Xiaomi smartphone demographic from using the Xiaomi App Store.”

Pay-to-play potential
There is certainly a pay-to-play potential here for app developers as well as consumers. Those that prefer to have their apps featured in Unlocked for a limited time may experience free press and increased company or product awareness, while mobile users will have access to a slew of new apps.

“Subscription models have proven themselves in a number of different markets and making it easy and ‘free’ to download an app or a game both reinforces the value of the relationship with the provider, and enhances the user experience,” said Thad Peterson, senior analyst at Aite Group, Atlanta, GA. “It’s also ‘self-validating’ in that there is an intrinsic reward when a customer acquires something of value without having to provide incremental payment.”

Amazon has not yet announced whether it will charge either side for the service, but initially launching it for free before introducing a small subscription fee may be an optimal idea.

The rumors point to the fact that Amazon is aiming to compete with conglomerates such as Apple and Google in the tight app space, and may be willing to cut prices.

Several weeks ago, Amazon enticed mobile users to boost its app installs by leveraging a $25,000 shopping spree giveaway to one lucky Android consumer. The contest, which requires customers to download the Amazon Appstore, asks guests to fill out the in-app application to enter to win.

The contest ends on April 15.

However, some experts believe that the service may arrive with caveats.

“Amazon has two strategies: drive a one-click wallet relationship to encourage impulse purchases and provide a customer-first suite of services to capture mindshare,” Impact Mobile’s Mr. Schwartz said. “Amazon is less focused on technology innovation as it is on business innovation around its consumers and its merchants.”

“It’s not going to be straightforward to run a service like this, especially around games with in-app purchases,” Atimi’s Mr. Michaels said. “So it all depends how they run the offer.

“If they see a model where they can provide (some) upfront and in-app purchases for a single fee, there is a benefit to the end user, and therefore some will subscribe to the service. I don’t think it will be compelling to people outside of the market of heavy users, since the freemium model is still so strong in the app store(s) and the games and products are not designed to be used under an all-you-can-eat kind of model.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York