Android

Is Google building a walled garden?

Is Google flexing too much when it forces the likes of Amazon to remove app stores from its shopping tools? Jack Wallen ponders the possibility.

Amazon and Google

Back in September, Google forced Amazon to remove their main app from the Google Play Store. This app (which has been downloaded nearly 100 million times) gave users instant access to the Amazon Appstore, where they could purchase and/or download apps for use on their Android devices. In the apps place is the standard Amazon Shopping app.

Before I point the finger of shame at Google, I must bring up one thing — the only way Amazon was able to get the original app into the Play Store in the first place was through a loophole. You see, Google's terms of service does not allow apps to give users access to competing app stores (if that is the primary purpose of the app). It was that "primary purpose" loophole that Amazon used to get around the Play Store agreement. Since then, Google has removed the "primary purpose" verbiage so that it will not allow any app to serve as an "app store."

This is a problem. Why? I've installed plenty of apps — especially home screen launchers — that give users access to "app stores" created specifically as gateways to, say, themes, icons, and wallpapers. Those "app stores" made customizing those apps so much easier than searching through the official Google Play Store for themes and the like. Now, however, Google is locking down the playground so that only it can say what toys can be played with.

Sound hauntingly familiar? It should, because this is exactly how Apple rolls.

Amazon is being smart about this. How? They removed the old app from the Google Play Store and won't be updating the version on millions of devices. This mean that all those users with the Amazon app won't see the ability to install apps from Amazon removed. If you don't happen to have the app, you can still download it directly from Amazon.

This is tricky water to navigate. Google doesn't prevent or block apps like Amazon Music, Netflix, or Spotify — and they all either sell or stream music or video (which is a redundancy of the Google Play Store). Yet the redundant selling or giving away of apps is frowned upon to the point of removal. The argument, of course, doesn't figure in the idea that, compared to the Google Play Store, the Amazon Appstore is an afterthought to most Android users. If you've ever downloaded apps from Amazon, you know that some aren't updated or vetted nearly as well as they should be.

If you install the new version of the Amazon shopping app, you'll instantly get confused. At first glance, you can clearly browse through Android apps. However, when you tap on a specific app (with the hopes of installing said app), you'll see a warning (Figure A) that states the purchasing of apps and games isn't supported.

Figure A

Figure A

Don't even try to purchase an app on the new version of Amazon Shopping.

My take on this? Google has every right to do what they want. It's their playground and toys. However, the makers of Android would be remiss if they didn't stop to consider that one of the reasons many iOS defectors reach out to Android is freedom. With Android, one feels like they are on a platform "by the people, for the people." The very slogan which Google hung its hat on is "Be together, not the same." But with this kind of policing, Google runs counter to that statement.

Of course, this isn't a deal breaker. There isn't a game-changing app on the Amazon Appstore that people are clamoring to have. What this is, however, is a precipice that Google should not be teetering over. If Google plays its cards wrong, it could wind up forcing a lot of apps to remove features or in-app purchases of premium services and/or licenses.

As I stated, these are tricky waters to navigate. On one hand, Google chances turning into another Apple. On the other hand, Google must protect its own interests and not allow third-party apps to take away business. We all know the mobile industry is a numbers game. Companies like Google and Apple rely heavily on those numbers to attract consumers so they can continue to raise the numbers that originally attracted the consumers in the first place. If Google handed over a percentage of those numbers to Amazon, it could — gasp — lose the war on mobility!

What do you think? Is this a slippery slope — or is it an intelligent move on Google's part to protect its brand?

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox