Amazon has offered realtime demos of Android apps on its website for over a year through the company's Test Drive program. Now the online retailer seems poised to offer the same functionality directly on Android hardware, and has begun rolling out the feature to users who've installed Amazon Appstore on their device of choice. Rather than putting you up against the clock like Google — which allows users to request a refund up to 15 minutes following an app purchase — Amazon's solution lets customers sample an application without buying (or installing) the software directly.
Unfortunately, Test Drive is limited to select (and unspecified) handsets at the moment; we installed the latest version of Amazon Appstore on a gamut of devices in our NYC office, but never saw the green "Test Drive" icon appear on any of them. Even if you are lucky enough to have a compatible device, app selection is fairly rudimentary at this point. Amazon says it will work to expand both compatible hardware and the number of Test Drive-enabled applications in the coming months.
The company hasn't detailed exactly how it's powering Test Drive on Android behind the scenes, though we suspect it would resemble that of the desktop experience. The browser version relies on a virtual Android machine that runs via the cloud on Amazon's EC2 servers, providing users with a better sense of how an app would perform natively compared to something like a Flash-based demo. If you're one of the chosen few that have been given Test Drive privileges, don't hesitate to share your impressions in the comments.