Kindle Fire owners (and there are a lot of them) will soon have a new way to buy things on Amazon's app store. "Amazon Coins" will be a penny each, and can be used to buy apps, games, subscriptions, and other virtual items.
Amazon announced the news on its app store development blog, where the payment system was described. Essentially, the coins will act exactly the same as real money for all intents and purposes, except that there will be no need to, say, select a credit card to charge. Developers will be relieved to hear that if their apps are bought with coins, they will still be paid with real money.
Why coins? Virtual currencies have never been very popular among customers, usually because of the hassle of having to buy packs of them and then having lots left over. For instance, say an app costs 280 coins, and you buy a pack of 500 to buy it with, leaving 220 left over. Amazon's happy because you bought $5 worth of coins, but you're not, because you only wanted $2.80 worth of app!
How you'll buy Amazon Coins isn't yet known, but hopefully the company will avoid this kind of trap. It seems, however, that customers can still pay with a card if they prefer.
Meanwhile, there are some benefits to using a virtual currency. Coins can be awarded to Amazon customers instead of real money for achievements or surveys, sidestepping many regulations and complications that appear when doling out cash prizes. And a separate account for your kid with a monthly allowance of coins would be welcomed by many high-tech parents.
Coins launch in May, and as the blog post says, Amazon will be giving out "tens of millions of dollars worth" of the currency.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.