Some thoughts on Amazon's rumored Smartphone

Amazon is hoping to parlay their success with the Kindle Fire into smartphone marketshare

Amazon released their Kindle Fire Android tablet last year to great success. It is the only non-iPad to even merit mention on any popularity list. It occupies the intersection between those interested in e-readers and tablets. One can read all they want (and watch all the Amazon Instant Video they desire). The Amazon Appstore has almost all the top apps that the Play Store does. Google has released the Nexus series of smartphones directly to consumers off and on. I have hopped off the carrier wagon and hopped onto the Nexus train myself, but it is not for everyone. While the Galaxy Nexus is a great device (with stock Android 4.0.x or 4.1.x), it is probably not for everyone, so can Amazon create a one-size fits all Android smartphone?

But what will it take to succeed?

There are a few ways to go about creating smartphones;

  • create a reference design, and spin that out to all of the carriers (with carrier tweaks for modems, etc), just like the iPhone
  • create a platform, and allow carriers to customize it to their leisure (changis in size, name etc), just like the Galaxy S and Galaxy S II lines
  • create a single phone, that you sell independently, and sell it independently, just like the GSM Galaxy Nexus
The Kindle Fire is in dire need of an upgrade to Jelly Bean, whether or not Amazon skins it over.

So which approach is best for Amazon to take? In my mind, it is the first. Creating one reference design that only requires differing modem hardware and software will create a unified reference that matches the specifications of different frequencies and technologies used by the US cellular carriers. This is the best way to ensure regular updates and a unified operating system.

The operating system brings to bear a new load of questions, will Amazon continue to skin Android to their specifications, or stick to stock Android? It is my belief that they will continue to base their UX off of Android (due to the wealth of Android programming experience they have from the Fire) but attempt to create an Amazon unified experience. This unified experience will in-turn most likely upgrade the software on the Kindle Fire (a device which is fully capable of the upgrade to Android 4.0.x or 4.1.x).

So can Amazon succeed?

This is the real question right? I think they can, if they adopt the carrier subsidized, one-size model that Apple has. This one-size approach has allowed for a host of accessories by third parties. The appeal of the Kindle Fire was its price point, at $199, it was 40% the cost of an iPad, and the Amazon ecosystem offered a strong reason to purchase. Amazon will/can succeed on this phone only with four things;

  • unified platform that is heavily carrier subsidized (and on all 4 major US carriers)
  • price - it must beat the iPhone on price
  • 4G - US consumers are obsessed with 4G (LTE) even if they do not know why they need it, the Amazon phone needs to match in capability as well
  • the Amazon phone is consistently on the latest and greatest version of Android (and the skinning is not too bad)
I think that if Amazon can manage these four tasks, they will have a viable smartphone to sell to consumers. The Amazon ecosystem and experience are strong ones, and users will find it easier to consume and purchase on an Amazon phone than any other device. While the smartphone market seems completely saturated, there is room, and neither Microsoft or RIM is taking it. While this would technically be another Android device, it would be Amazon's and boost their bottom line.  The market can always use well-designed and differentiated devices, and if Amazon can hit a do as well with the smartphone as they did with the Kindle Fire, they will certainly be a contender in the smartphone wars.

Ryan Kamauff

Ryan Kamauff is a senior analyst with Crucial Point LLC. He produces technology focused content for and reports on analytical megatrends at the new IoT focused
About Ryan Kamauff

Ryan Kamauff is a senior analyst with Crucial Point LLC. He produces technology focused content for and reports on analytical megatrends at the new IoT focused

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