Amazon is sweetening its tablet offerings ahead of the holidays, offering developers new tools and kids unlimited content.
Amazon is doing what it can to attract developers and differentiate itself in a fast-growing tablet market packed with rivals, including Apple's iPad and Samsung's Galaxy Tab. On Dec. 6, Amazon's efforts included the beta launch of A/B Testing, a free service to help Kindle Fire developers simultaneously test treatments of their apps, receive data about what's working and quickly make adjustments.
Amazon officials said the service has come out of the company's own experiences refining its Website and that it will help developers perfect their apps and retain customers.
"Apps are living products continuously being updated, modified and improved, and with millions of potential active users, developers know that seemingly small changes can have a large impact on customers," Mike Frazzini, director of Amazon Games, said in a Dec. 6 statement
. "Our A/B Testing service is essential for developers because it will help offload the overhead costs of building, maintaining and running scalable tests."
Among Amazon's recently added tools and features are GameCircle, which offers capabilities that make games more engaging and that developers won't have to create themselves; a Maps API; the ability to "test drive" apps on a greater variety of Kindle Fire HD units; a Kindle Fire Emulator, so developers can test apps on devices they don't own; Unity plug-ins for in-app purchasing and GameCircle APIs, making it simpler to add these features to games and apps; location support; and developer forums.
Over the last year, according to Amazon, app downloads from its Appstore have increased by more than 500 percent, and since the launch of the Kindle Fire HD—and development resources for that tablet—total downloads of SDKs for in-app purchasing and Game Circle have more than doubled.
Aaron Rubenson, director of Amazon's Appstore for Android, added that Amazon is also trying to make it easier for apps to be discovered by consumers.
"We're working hard to make lives easier for developers and to give them more ways to grow their business," he said.
Amazon swooped onto the tablet scene in November 2011 and enjoyed sales so strong it instantly slipped into the No. 2 spot behind Apple. Moving into 2012, however, it was unable to sustain its momentum, and Samsung again stepped ahead of it. During the third quarter, Amazon sold 2.5 million tablets for a 9 percent share of the market, compared with Samsung's 18.4 percent and Apple's 50.4 percent share, according to IDC
On Sept. 6., Amazon introduced three new Kindles
: a 7-inch Kindle Fire HD with double the RAM; an 8.9-inch Kindle Fire with 4G connectivity; and the backlit Kindle Paperwhite e-reader, with CEO Jeff Bezos calling the Kindle Fire HD "the best high-end tablet anywhere, at any price."
While it's tough to top Apple in the hardware department (The New York Times'
David Pogue called the Kindle Fire HD "more soot than Fire"), there's no denying that Amazon's strength is in software.
With the holiday nearing, Amazon flexed its muscle. On Dec. 5, it introduced Kindle FreeTime Unlimited, a deal that extends unlimited Android apps, games, movies and TV shows to Amazon Prime members for $2.99 per month per child (how do they know?) or $6.99 per month per family. Non-Prime members can sign up for $4.99 per kid or $9.99 per family.
In FreeTime Unlimited, all apps have in-app payments, ads and social media removed, and all content is prescreened for age-appropriateness. The service is designed for children aged 3 through 8.
"FreeTime Unlimited gives kids the freedom to explore age-appropriate content on their own and pick for themselves what they want to watch, play or read next," Peter Larsen, vice president of Amazon Kindle, said in a statement. "For as little as $2.99 a month, your child will have unlimited access to thousands of popular books, games, educational apps, movies and TV shows from Disney, Nickelodeon, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, PBS, Sesame Workshop and more."