Amazon seizes their opportunity

Mobile Sep 04, 2011 No Comments

MG Siegler says he’s seen and used the Amazon tablet.  According to Siegler, the tablet will be Kindle-branded, 7” and running Android, but not the Google-sanctioned kind.  As we detailed in our 2-part series on Google and Open Source, Google has compatibility standards and other requirements that Android manufacturers must meet.  For those whom Google choose to turn away or those who choose to go in a different direction, every version of Android through Android 2.3 has been open-sourced for anyone to take and manipulate for their own needs.  In April, we laid out how the open-source nature of Android provides an opportunity for a major player to fork the OS and make it something of their own.  We specifically named Amazon as the company ready to take Google’s loose ball and run with it.

Apparently, that’s what’s going on here.  Amazon has taken Android somewhere around the 2.2 development and created something of their own.  In order to chart its path forward, it’s almost a given that they’ll have put considerable work into fundamental parts of the OS beyond the kernel.  Make no mistake about it, Google will not be sanctioning this product and working with Amazon because this device has the potential to be significantly disruptive to the Android ecosystem.

Amazon has already laid down the tracks for anyone hoping to make Android something of their own.  Their App Store for Android devices has proven to be popular and compelling despite controversy with some of the participating developers.  Already, the App Store has many of the most compelling Android apps available, diminishing the need for the Google-controlled Android Market.  While everyone anticipated this becoming a core element of an Amazon Android tablet, it’s already proven to be an alternative for those who don’t want to play by Google’s rules.  Witness the excommunicated HTC Merge and its release on smaller carriers with the Amazon App Store.  Perhaps more importantly, witness Fusion Garage’s new Grid 10 and Grid 4 devices.  The Grid OS devices are entirely forked versions of Android that carry the Amazon App Store as their alternative.

Admittedly, the Grid 10 is probably not going anywhere commercially, but that’s entirely our original point about Amazon as the company of choice.  Only a company with the clout and money of Amazon can take Android and make it a compelling alternative, not just for consumers but for developers.  We originally predicted that Nokia could do something similar, but they obviously ended up going a different direction.  Amazon, on the other hand, has very little need to create an ecosystem that’s designed around selling hardware as their main profit generator.  Amazon’s core business has always been selling physical and digital goods, and that’s exactly what it sounds like this new Kindle will be geared towards.

Which leads to another amusing facet of this new development.  Barnes & Noble makes the closest competitor to this product, a completely customized version of Android on a 7” screen that is locked down to serve as a conduit for their content.  You can bet Amazon will learn from B&N’s mistakes by doing a better job of locking down the Kindle to prevent easy hacking.  You can also bet that Amazon will not be allowing other bookstores on its device.  While companies like Sony complained months ago about Apple’s new App Store rules regarding in-app purchases, Amazon remained relatively quiet through the process.  No doubt they don’t want to find themselves in a Daily Show-style hypocritical stance of demonizing Apple’s rules while not allowing any competitors in their store at all.  Google isn’t the only company that’s capable of using Android in a way that’s anything but “open.”

What will be fun is to see how Google chooses to address the Amazon threat if the new Kindle does take off.  The prospect and the threat of the best-selling Android tablet, one controlled by Amazon and having no Google services built in, has to be one that Mountain View won’t ignore.  How they choose to spin it, most likely in the name of “openness,” will be the main attraction.

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