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Amazon will take over Android app distribution

Assume the Kindle Fire will sell very well, even though it needs a lot of help.

The only way most Kindle Fire owners are going to be installing apps is from the Amazon Appstore for Android. The Fire doesn’t ship with Google Market and most buyers won’t be savvy or motivated enough to hack it or side-load anything.

It’s similar to Apple’s App Store lockdown on iOS devices: the Amazon Appstore is the only game in town on this probably-soon-to-be-very-popular Android device. Most Android developers, therefore, need to ensure that their app is available in the Amazon Appstore.

So far, Amazon has not been great to developers. (Or book publishers, for that matter.) By most accounts, dealing with Amazon is actually much worse for developers than dealing with Apple. By putting your app in the Amazon Appstore, you’re giving up a lot more control than Apple asks of us: you’re giving up the ability to set your own price and control your app’s description, among many other restrictions. By comparison, it makes Apple look almost… open.

One of the biggest draws to the Android platform, the “open” Android Market, has just been sidestepped and made largely irrelevant for tablets. If the Fire sells anywhere near its target volumes, Amazon has hijacked the Android app retail channel for the long term: most sales of Android tablet software will be through the Amazon Appstore, and if your app isn’t there, it’s effectively invisible to the Android tablet userbase.

How long will it be before this effect spreads to the much larger Android-phone market? All it would take is a deal between Amazon and one of the big handset manufacturers to preload the Amazon Appstore, placed more prominently than Google’s Android Market, on all of their phones for a little while. Amazon knows how to play the retail game — it’s their business, and they’re incredibly good at it.

A truly open facet of Android — the open-source codebase, minus Google’s apps — has enabled one company with a strong market position to step in, effectively close it, and make themselves the gatekeeper. And as gatekeepers go, Apple looks quite benevolent by comparison.