The Reality of Amazon Underground

On my science and tech news podcast Sovryn Tech, I’ve been covering for years what I call the “Amazon World Domination Tour”, which is in reference to my theory that–if you are concerned about privacy, security, anonymity, and control of your devices and property overall–Amazon may be the most dangerous company out there, even more so than Alphabet/Google (and Alphabet has openly stated that Amazon is their only real competition). In fact, I think Alphabet is so concerned about Amazon, it was a major reason for their choice of Google’s new parent company’s name: “Alphabet” would come before “Amazon” on an alphabetical list. From Amazon Coin, to old Kindle POS systems, to drones, to Twitch.tv, to various hardware installment plans, to a huge chunk of the internet running on Amazon’s servers, to FireOS itself…there are a million reasons for–when everything is operating in concert–why I think they are the “company of the future” (and in my opinion, not in a good way).

The next step in becoming the “company of the future” is an interesting one, and I think a game changer. And it actually proves at least one key point that we push for with the Dark Android Project. It’s called “Amazon Underground“, and it was just released today. But before we get into what it means for Dark Android, let’s talk about what Amazon Underground is.

2015-08-26 14_16_06-StartAmazon Underground is a replacement app for both the Amazon Shopping app and the Amazon Appstore app on Android and Android-like operating systems. What it offers you is the full Amazon shopping experience, as well as give you access to the Amazon Appstore, but with a twist. Most of the apps–that in the Google Play Store you would pay money for–are absolutely free. Thousands of premium, high-end apps are available to use completely free that, again, you would normally pay for, and Amazon will pay the developers based upon the amount of time that people use the app. Again, no cost to you. Picture it working like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, just no extra fee involved (whether you have a Prime account or not).

How can they provide this at no cost? Well, first thing, not every app is free. Some you still have to buy. But I think there are a few ways that this is going to work. One is in-app advertisements, which is the main way that app developers make money, anyway, and those aren’t going away. The other is in-app purchases–or IAP–which also isn’t going anywhere as I understand it, so the REAL way that app developers make their money isn’t changing. Those that operated under the auspices of selling you their apps will likely either continue to charge for their app, or will take the Amazon compensation and/or take the supposed “market cue” too start using in-app advertisements and IAP.

But none of that matters really or is interesting.

The first thing I find interesting is that you cannot get the Amazon Underground app in the Google Play Store. You HAVE TO download it directly from Amazon’s website as a separate side-loading .apk. The reason for this is that the Google Play Store doesn’t allow app repositories and built-in app stores into the Play Store (the Apple App Store has similar restrictions that Amazon has been trying to get around with its Kindle app for years). This was always true for the Amazon Appstore app, and it also caused a fiasco when Amazon tried to build their app store into the main Amazon app that was already available in the Play Store, which forced Amazon to create a separate Amazon Shopping app. What this highlights is what I talk about often on the Dark Android Blog (and on the main page) that we need to get away from app repositories and stores entirely, and get back to downloading separate .apk’s from respective websites. If a company the size–and with the weight–of Amazon finds it necessary to have off-repository installers/.apk’s to have the freedom of features they’d like for their apps, how important must it be for individuals like you and I? And most people aren’t even developers, they’re just consumers, so what features that could be built into apps–or apps themselves–are people missing out on because of the tyrannical nature of app stores and repositories? Oh yes, I think the Amazon Underground app brings this to light in a very real way.

Now, that’s not to say Amazon is the good guy in all of this. They have proved the need for getting away from app stores on their own. The blocking of the Kodi media player app for specious reasons, the removal of the controversial game “Postal 2” from the Amazon Appstore while it was still hypocritically available on Amazon.com…Amazon has certainly done its fair share of shady business when it comes to Android apps, so there are plenty of fingers to point, make no mistake. But anything to prove the points I’ve made for years on Sovryn Tech and with the Dark Android Project, I’ll take. If you want to even remotely pretend that you own your devices or apps, we need to get away from these app stores–or at the very least use open options like F-Droid.

I think it also proves what I at Dark Android and people at Cyanogen have said, Android can be taken away from Alphabet. Android can be done better by other companies. Amazon’s FireOS and Underground could potentially outperform Alphabet. Microsoft may deliver better app experiences than Alphabet can. And of course with a Dark Android setup, I argue that Android can be done better by individuals when they are given the options, when given the freedom to choose.

So then, how will Amazon Underground do as a business model? I actually think it will do very well. If anything, using the word “Underground” in the name gives it a lot of rebellious edge, and has certainly worked for gaming purposes before (consider the “Playstation Underground” from the 90’s, and how it helped create a distinct image of cool that defied and somewhat dethroned Nintendo). And that whole “Underground” mystique and attitude really adds a punch to the notion that Amazon is selling, “Hey, this app is so badass that Google won’t allow it to be released in the Play Store!” Even their app symbol looks like it’s done in graffiti. It’s all a renegade mixture that I’m sure will appeal to the kids/teenagers. It probably would have worked on me 20 years ago.

And keep in mind that–if you think Amazon can’t possibly keep offering so much stuff for free or at such low margins and stay alive as a company–this is Amazon’s long game that they’re willing to risk everything on: Get the up-and-coming generation totally hooked on Amazon at all costs. Because they know that if they can own the next generation by ensnaring them in their ecosystem (and they have a Hell of an ecosystem, from music, to movies, to TV, to games, to products), there’s no price they can’t charge for their services and products. And then Amazon becomes the ultimate winner out of Silicon Valley.

I think Amazon has a winner here. However, us as individuals that are¬†conscientious consumers, this isn’t really a win for us. It just proves some of the things we talk about at the Dark Android Project.

Carpe lucem!

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