Amazon's Appstore for Android officially launched last week, and with it, free Android applications like Angry Birds Rio. But one thing seemed to get missed in the news, something pretty cool. Amazon launched something called "Test Drive" which allows people to try out an application on Amazon.com before downloading and installing on your phone. It lives within your Web browser, offering a cloud computing experience with an Android virtual machine. Not bad.
Amazon is providing an entire virtual Android smartphone on screen with working mouse controls (no keyboard at this time). And you can try out various apps, play games, browse the device's photo gallery, listen to music, or surf the Web from a working Android browser. Amazon says:
Clicking the “Test drive now” button launches a copy of this app on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), a web service that provides on-demand compute capacity in the cloud for developers. When you click on the simulated phone using your mouse, we send those inputs over the Internet to the app running on Amazon EC2 — just like your mobile device would send a finger tap to the app. Our servers then send the video and audio output from the app back to your computer. All this happens in real time, allowing you to explore the features of the app as if it were running on your mobile device.
There are a few drawbacks. The curent Test Drive is only available to folks in the US. And for now, the number of applications available for testing in this virtual environment are extremely limited compared to the number of apps in the store. But one can assume this will increase over time. When browsing the Amazon App store, you'll see a link that reads "Test Drive Now" for those apps that are available. You then control those apps with your mouse, and experience it like you would on your phone. Granted, using a mouse isn't exactly the same thing as running your finger across your phone... but it should be enough to give you an idea of the features available and whether it's worth your time and money for download.
The purpose here is clear - to help Amazon sell applications. But it is still cool, and it does provide a lot of ideas as to where this thing can go. And it's pretty darn useful. How many apps have you downloaded to your phone only to remove them within 30 minutes later?