Finally we got a real confirmation that Amazon tablet is coming soon. And it brings to the market the first mainstream Android fork.
When first credible rumors about the upcoming Android based Amazon tablet started popping up, I wondered what the heck Jeff Bezos and his team were up to. They can not just do another Honeycomb tablet like everyone else! Amazon is in the hardware game only as much as it helps to sell their digital products – just look at a Kindle e-reader. So Amazon tablet will have to be heavily customized around Amazon digital services. But there is only so much customization you can do before you run afoul of Google’s Android Compatibility Guidelines. Putting Amazon services front¢er instead of Google apps, may already cause some licensing issues. And Amazon is directly competing with Google Music – how long will it take for Google to make this service part of default Android apps suite, and what should Amazon do then?
One thing seemed pretty clear to me back then –Amazon will not become the official Android licensee. But without contract with Google – there was no way that Amazon tablet will run Honeycomb. Android 3.0 has not been open sourced yet, and probably won’t ever be. The only way to get the Honeycomb code – is to sign Android OEM license agreement with Google. Which Amazon couldn’t do. To make Android tablet as tightly integrated with its services as Amazon wants, they had to use the open source Android 2.x version. And lose the timely access to all future Google Android upgrades and improvements. Thus automatically putting the new tablet behind other OEM’s relying on licensed Android.
The end user does not care much which version of Android his tablet runs. If their new shiny gadget just works, delivers excellent content and provides possibility to expand the functionality via apps, it does not matter if it runs on Android 2.x. or Android 5.
Amazon knew that. On a new tablet, Amazon e-books, music and video libraries are just a tap away, can be downloaded or streamed instantly, and, even more important – paid for with a single click. While Amazon App Store takes care of the expandability thing. And at the $250 price point, Amazon Kindle Tab is not yet in the impulse purchase territory, but is pretty close to that. With the prime placement on Amazon.com homepage, it should start selling in the millions very soon.
But since Kindle Tab runs on Android 2.x, Android 3.0 and higher tablet apps will not be compatible with it. In a few months, a developer writing a tablet app for Android will have to start making choices – write an app for Android Marketplace or Amazon App Store. And, at least in U.S., Amazon may quickly become a much more attractive place for tablet apps.
For now, Google licensed tablet sales are pretty pathetic. That’s probably because Google itself does not care much about Honeycomb, and is hard at work on Ice Cream Sandwich to give Android tablets a boost. With $250 Kindle Tab, Amazon has a pretty good chance to match and beat the number of Google tablets sold in the U.S. And give app developers a much better monetization opportunities too.
App monetization is a major Android Marketplace weakness. Let’s face it – Google has no experience in selling things, and can’t directly monetize (sell) any of their products worth a damn. While Amazon- an unsurpassed master at selling things online – will soon be heavily applying its talents to its own App Store. What’s more – all Kindle users have already entered their credit card data, and trust Amazon with their purchases.
By this time next year we may have two competing Android based platforms for tablet apps – Google’s and Amazon’s. If Amazon is able to achieve device volumes parity with Google, but their users download several times more paid apps, guess which platform will developers start writing their tablet apps for first?
If Amazon had a bigger global presence, this could be a very dangerous development for Android. Fortunately for them, at least at first, Kindle tab will be mostly U.S. based. Amazon digital services in other countries are not yet up to the par to make Kindle Tab an attractive proposition. They are probably hard at work getting content licensing deals and infrastructure in place there, but Amazon is present only in Canada, China, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and U.K. And, apart from Europe, getting Amazon digital services up and running could take a long time. So there is a big chunk of the world where Kindle Tab is a non issue for Android.
Nevertheless, as soon as Amazon launches its Kindle tablet, Android becomes forked in a major way. Before Kindle Tab, the only serious Android forks were in China – things like OPhone and Baidu’s Yi. But now, even if the sales official Google approved tablets explode this Holiday season with the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, there is very little doubt that Amazon’s version of Android will become a mainstream tablet platform as well. With it’s own set of apps and it’s own ecosystem.
And, with Amazon paving the way, who knows who else may decide to follow them?
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