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Amazon Appstore nears 400K apps on 'huge progress'

The e-commerce giant has been behind Apple and Google in the app store race, though it's taken steps to improve its offering and those are starting to pay off.

Amazon's Fire tablet line includes plenty of must-have apps, but is still missing a few others. CNET

BARCELONA -- Amazon has had a tough time getting its mobile-apps store noticed against bigger storefronts from Google and Apple. But it's making some headway in changing that.

A spokesman for the e-commerce giant told CNET this week that the Amazon Appstore has reached nearly 400,000 apps worldwide, up from its last reported figure of 300,000 in the fall and roughly double that of a year ago.

"To me, it's all about making sure we have all the right selection. We've made huge progress on that," Mike George, Amazon's vice president of apps and games, said in an interview here Tuesday during Mobile World Congress.

However, the 4-year-old Amazon Appstore -- which is largely designed for the company's Fire tablets and Fire Phone smartphones -- remains well behind the Google Play store and Apple's App Store, each of which has over 1.2 million apps. Also, while it has increased its selection, Amazon's store still lacks some of the biggest titles from those other stores, such as Google's maps and email apps, and Supercell's Clash of Clans game.

Having a strong app store is critical for Amazon's device sales, since some customers will be turned off about buying its devices if they are missing sought-after apps or aren't regularly updated with new ones. But with two major players getting much of the attention, Amazon has struggled to get developers interested in making apps for its platform.

Mike George, Amazon's vice president of apps and games, said the number of Appstore apps has roughly doubled in a year. Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Amazon has pushed to address that issue, with the company working closely with many app and game developers to bolster the store's catalog and bring to it the most popular apps. George said the Appstore catalog roughly doubled in the past year thanks to the popularity of Amazon's virtual currency, Amazon Coins, which provides discounts for app purchases, as well as the Fire Phone, which didn't sell well when introduced last year but still spurred app submissions from developers.

Moving forward, George said, Amazon will work to keep building up the catalog and focus on making apps more affordable, thanks to Amazon Coins and its free daily app program.

"I'm not chasing a particular number," he said about the store's total app count. "I'm just making sure we have all the apps that our customers want to use. And we have many of them and we're still working on everybody else."

A big plus Amazon has enjoyed from the Appstore is that once people start using it, they often become repeat customers, since Amazon users are accustomed to spending their money on the company's services and products, and already submitted their credit card information to its main website.

To grow its base, the company now needs to get its Appstore preinstalled on more devices that Amazon doesn't make itself, said Jack Kent, a mobile analyst for IHS.

"Trying to do it itself, it's going to be challenging," Kent said. "Having partners, it will have a better chance."

Brian Blau, a Gartner analyst, said that if Amazon can make its phone a bigger draw for consumers, its app store will benefit hugely.

"If they can solve that problem, their app store will rise above the others," he said, referring to the other smaller stores, such as Microsoft's Windows Phone and the BlackBerry World app stores.

But regarding catching up to Apple or Google, Blau added, Amazon has a long way to go.

Although the Appstore is still smaller than Google or Apple's stores, it fits well with Amazon's broad philosophy of trying to offer cheaper services to customers and making products and services independently -- even at the risk of failing -- so it can control and develop them, as well as draw customers into its ecosystem of offerings.

"We have patience and we take a long view of all these things that we're doing, and we really do start with our customers," George said. "And if we don't get it the first time, we keep iterating and inventing until we do."

In addition, he said, the company has launched the Appstore in more countries -- reaching 236 -- along with adding features to it and getting it preloaded on more devices.

"We're not slowing down," George said.