There’s been talk of an Amazon super-Kindle running Android OS since… about 5 minutes after Steve Jobs left the stage following the original iPad introduction. Now that Amazon has launched their Appstore (TM in contention), that talk is heating up again. And why not? It’s an obvious play. I’d be surprised if Amazon hasn’t had one in the labs for a while now (just like I would have been surprised if Facebook hadn’t been working on a phone…)
Amazon has content like iTunes, including (in the US at least — and more on that in a moment), ebooks, movies, TV shows, music, and now apps. They’ve made hardware before with the Kindle line.
But they’re hardly the only one.
Sony makes phones, owns a movie studio and record label, and almost everything else in place to launch a similarly competitive offering but they’ve been struggling of late and don’t seem to be that Walkman strutting, Trinitron innovating Sony of old. Samsung, however, is coming on strongly with their Galaxy S range of devices in assorted sizes and their Hub media services.
What Amazon has is a single login, credit card holding advantage. Both Google and Facebook could probably match Amazon on logins but they’re internet based advertising companies (what they sell is users’ attention). Amazon is an internet based commerce company (what they sell are goods). That’s an important difference. Most importantly, Amazon has the only checkout system in the world to rival iTunes, in terms of both one-click ease of use (Amazon actually patented one-click) and sheer number of credit cards on file.
Even so, they will be “just another Android tablet”. It’s no coincidence all these competitors — real and rumored — are being built on Android. Google has done to mobile what Microsoft did to PCs — make an OS that’s so great OEMs and VARs can’t justify the effort, investment, and resources necessary to make their own mobile OS anymore. (That’s a good sign for the maturity of the space, though a loss for those of us still hoping to see more innovation like a true Facebook or Mozilla mobile OS.) That means that market, skin, and branding aside, Amazon (and others) will benefit from huge economies of ecosystem but will also have to face competition within their own platform and struggle for differentiation and attention in the market. (They’ll also be facing internal tension since they’re providing Kindle and other apps for their competition — Apple doesn’t make iBooks or GarageBand for Android.)
Let’s say for the sake of argument Amazon’s brand is big and strong enough to really stand out from the pack –it still only gives Amazon some pieces of the puzzle.
Apple is offering an almost 360-degrees of integration. Everyone else has some part of that same story but no one else has all of it yet. RIM and HP/Palm have integrated hardware/software but lack the global checkout system of Apple or Amazon. Google has great services but their checkout is lackluster, their content still in process, and they’re almost always at the mercy of their hardware and carrier partners. Microsoft also has a desktop OS and previous consumer electronics like Xbox that could help with a halo effect, but none of them provided the existing accessory base and upgrade path iPod did, and Microsoft’s entire mobile strategy has been slow to the point of abdication. And almost no one else has anything like Apple’s retail stores.
So while upcoming mobile competitors will be bringing specs to an experience fight, Amazon and their hugely successful ecomm business will at least be bringing content as well. But it’s still an experience fight.
At the end of the day — or more appropriately at the moment of consumer decision making — you can’t match Apple on content any more than you can match them on specs. You have to match them on the feeling of the person in the Apple Store, hands-on with the device, absent any distracting logos on the bezel, easily obtaining and joyously not only using apps, but having the device become the app.
It’s a visceral response from mainstream consumers, an ability to engage with technology in a new, more understandable and incredibly intimate way that’s selling iPads, and that’s what needs to be competed against.