Q&A: Amazon's Appstore director on using AWS for building mobile apps

Summary:We sat down with the director of Amazon's Appstore to find out how developers can use AWS for building apps from start to finish.

SEATTLE -- There are few technology companies with as vast and diverse a portfolio as Amazon, and the Internet behemoth is busy connecting some of the less-than-obvious dots.


One of those more subtle ones would be between Amazon Web Services and the Amazon Appstore for Android.

As discussed during the first AWS conference last November in Las Vegas, Amazon is touting itself as a one-stop shop for app developers being that it could support developers from start to finish -- and really beyond if all goes well.

Quite simply, that means starting by building the app on AWS, selling it in the Appstore, and then scaling the business back on AWS if the app is successful.

Also tucked in there are possibilities for in-app purchasing and sales of physical goods from Amazon's retail arm as well as optimization opportunities for the Kindle Fire.

I recently sat down with Aaron Rubenson, director of the Amazon Appstore, at the company's new South Lake Union campus in Seattle to learn more about how app developers can use AWS as well as how Amazon plays into the Android ecosystem overall. Here's what I discovered:

On the synergies between Amazon Web Services and courting developers: For Amazon, Rubenson explained that the vision is to help developers over an entire spectrum.

Breaking that down, for a developer building an app, Rubenson started with the design and development stages, citing that's where AWS comes in. From there, he outlined that that once you have the app, you need to distribute it, market it, get customers to download it and need to monetize it somehow.

Again, from Amazon's perspective, that's where the Kindle Fire and the Amazon Appstore figure in the game.

"We're at a point where we can really help developers across the full spectrum of their needs," Rubenson said.

Amazon is also busy trying to court developers by touting itself as a one-stop shop for every service imaginable. For example, Rubenson pointed out that if you're a developer and you want to sell digital goods (i.e. upgrades, subscriptions, etc.) to your customers, Amazon enables them to use its one-click payments infrastructure.

The benefits for developers: Rubenson remarked that developers just want to focus on their intellectual property and how they're going to make their apps different. He acknowledged that the infrastructure is typically "less exciting and really hard." Assuming the app is successful, it will need to scale -- and likely fast.

AWS is trying to frame itself as the quick and easy remedy as it should take care of this automatically and cost-effectively without the need to add physical servers.

Rubenson briefly glossed over the upcoming release of Amazon Coins this May. Little is known about the recently announced virtual currency, except that customers can uses it to buy apps and games. Rubenson said that this will be a great option for developers, suggesting the more payment options the better as they will still receive 70 percent of the returns just like they would with credit cards.

As for developers expecting to get better promotion in the Amazon Appstore just because they're AWS customers too? Don't bet on it.

"We always start with the customers' interests in mind and work backwards," Rubenson explained. "When it comes to what we promote, we want to put forward the best apps and games. What I will say is the apps and games that use AWS tend to scale really well, so that makes them higher quality. But no, we don't give special treatment to [AWS-based] apps."

The benefits for Amazon: The most obvious benefit for Amazon is more customers (developers and consumers) all over the company from the cloud unit to retail.

But when asked if Amazon is trying to get exclusives on apps, he pondered a bit and described the concept as "interesting," but he asserted that's not the point of AWS. He explained that this scheme is designed for developers, following up that Amazon already has a successful distribution method in the form of the Kindle Fire.

"In general, our thinking is that by having really great products, customers favored apps and games. They're going to find them and buy them whether they're exclusive or not," Rubenson commented.

For more on this topic, check out the ZDNet and TechRepublic Special Feature Cloud: How to Do SaaS Right.

Topics: Cloud, Amazon, Mobility, Developer


Rachel King is a staff writer for CBS Interactive based in San Francisco, covering business and enterprise technology for ZDNet, CNET and SmartPlanet. She has previously worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. Rachel has also written for MainStreet.com, Irish Americ... Full Bio

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