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Originally published March 22, 2011 at 6:44 PM | Page modified March 23, 2011 at 7:23 PM

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Amazon begins selling apps for smartphones

Tuesday, Amazon.com began selling applications on its website for smartphones and tablet computers that run on Google's Android operating system.

Seattle Times business reporter

Amazon.com is adding another category to a wide-ranging digital strategy that already includes e-books, music downloads and video streamed over the Internet.

Tuesday, the Seattle-based company began selling applications on its website for smartphones and tablet computers that run on Google's Android operating system.

Amazon calls its latest offering the Amazon Appstore — a sore spot with rival Apple, which claims ownership of the App Store name and filed a trademark-infringement lawsuit Friday, saying Amazon's choice of words will confuse and mislead customers. Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako said the company has a long-standing policy of not publicly discussing pending litigation.

The new store, which Amazon originally outlined in January, launches with only about 4,000 apps, including restaurant-reviews program Zagat to Go for $9.99 and the games Pac-Man for $4.99 and Doodle Jump for 99 cents.

That's well below the 350,000 applications that Apple makes available for its iPhones, iPods and iPads, and it's less than the 150,000 apps offered by Google's own Android Market store.

Aaron Rubenson, who oversees business operations for the Amazon Appstore, emphasized that the Internet retailer is only getting started. "It's day one for us, and we're adding new apps every day," he said.

Unlike Google, Amazon tests apps before adding them to its Appstore to ensure they work as promised, don't carry computer viruses and conform to the company's basic content rules, such as no pornography.

App developers are paid either 70 percent of the sale price set by Amazon or 20 percent of the developer's list price, whichever is greater.

Amazon believes its ability to make personalized recommendations based on people's shopping habits will translate well to the app-selling space. It could, for example, suggest basketball-related apps to shoppers browsing its website for NCAA tournament apparel, Rubenson said.

"There are literally hundreds of thousands of apps available, with new ones coming every day," he said. "While that breadth of selection is interesting, it can make it difficult for customers to select products that are relevant to them.

"We focus on having great selection and helping customers find products that are right for them," he added.

Another advantage for Amazon is that millions of people already have arrangements to pay on its websites, said Sarah Rotman Epps, a technology analyst at Forrester Research.

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For now, she said, Apple fans are more likely than Android to download paid apps to their mobile devices, a disparity she attributes to the fact that many consumers already have their credit-card information on file with Apple. She said Amazon could "change the economics of apps" for the Android ecosystem.

"Consumers interact with Google all the time, but not with their credit cards," she said.

The stakes are huge: Forrester estimates that consumers globally will spend $4.5 billion on apps for smartphones and an additional $1.1 billion on apps for tablet computers in 2011. By 2015, it predicts those numbers will jump to $29.4 billion and $8.1 billion, respectively.

The Associated Press and MarketWatch contributed to this story.

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923

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