It appears that the long-rumored Amazon smartphone will become a reality at some point in 2014. We have heard talk and speculation about it since as early as 2011, but now it seems that HTC has been tapped to help Amazon put together a real contender to stand up to Apple and Google.
People familiar with the project recently mentioned to FT that at least one device is in an advanced stage of development and that if things don’t change in the meantime there is every reason to expect a launch sometime next year. Amazon, of course, declines to confirm these rumors.
If Amazon were to release a device using the same sales philosophy as it employs with the existing Kindle line – sell near cost and make your profits through use – then there is little doubt that adoption would be strong.
This would put HTC in a bit of a bind with Google, who has proven to be proficient at protecting their brand over the past couple years. Given the release of HTC’s less than successful Facebook Phone, though, they probably have the details about that already under consideration.
Watch for more news toward the end of this year. Amazon might not be willing to confirm, but a Kindle smartphone is going to have leaks along the production line and it should be particularly interesting to see what these reveal along the way.
Interest in a potential Kindle Phone has been rising ever since Bloomberg reported that Amazon was in the middle of testing said phone. The logic behind the move is arguably sound for Amazon, which leaves people fairly certain that it will happen. After all, if there are customers to be gained and the sort of 24/7 connection that many people have with their smartphones can be tied into Amazon services then the hardware line is worth it even if it doesn’t generate a dollar in sales on its own. What is especially interesting about all of this speculation, however, is the idea that Amazon is on the verge of upsetting the smartphone market in a major way.
To really understand the potential impact of a Kindle Phone, we have to look at what they have already done with the Kindle Fire. Users get access to an affordable, functional consumption device that is tied into Amazon.com. There are no major optional features, none of Google’s default Android services, and no efforts are being made to pretend that it is anything more than what it is able to be. All the designers cared about was how to get people the best access to Amazon’s media at the lowest price.
Let’s carry that through to a phone. Obviously we would be talking about something highly affordable. That is how the company defines their products. It would have to be exclusively connected to Amazon’s own services, which means no Google interaction. In a market increasingly pushing for universal access to turn-by-turn directions, calendar alarm notifications, and constant digital communications access, this could be slightly problematic. Even the Email app that shipped with the Kindle Fire didn’t quite work right at first, so it is hard to imagine them solving every possible problem with a new, more complex Android implementation so soon.
This doesn’t rule out an Amazon phone, but it does place it in a certain bracket. Just as the Kindle Fire doesn’t try to directly compete with the iPad, perhaps a Kindle Phone would avoid trying to compete with the iPhone.
There is a great deal of exposure to be gained if they choose to go with a “pay as you go” device. A Kindle Phone with the ability to connect to WiFi networks could be sold cheaply to millions of budget-conscious consumers. Even if they didn’t need it as a phone, the iPod Touch has demonstrated in the past that there is a level of consumer demand for such hardware. The ability to add prepaid minutes to a calling plan would just add a level of functionality to make it marketable while avoiding many of the hassles inherent in dealing with a normal carrier.
There is too little information to go on so far, and it is still definitely possible that Amazon will come out with a whole array of new services to make up for the lack of Google integration by the time a Kindle Phone sees the light of day. It might even turn out to be a high end device that puts every Android smartphone on the market to shame. The Kindle Fire set the tone for Amazon’s Android hardware, however, and the theme there has been one of simplicity and affordability. I think it is unlikely to see that change just yet.
According to people with knowledge of the situation, Amazon is planning to bring out their own smartphone to compete with Apple’s iPhone line. A Bloomberg revelation provided that information recently. The idea of a Kindle phone is something that has been touched on here before, particularly during the days leading up to the formal announcement of the Kindle Fire when anything seemed possible. It is increasingly likely that this is going to be the next stage of Kindle growth now that a tablet presence has been established.
The Kindle Fire gives the retail giant a foothold in portable electronics in a way that even the Kindle eReader couldn’t accomplish. The Kindle built its own market and basically kicked off the previously minimal eBook industry. The Kindle Fire proved that Amazon was both willing and able to enter into an existing device market and hold their own. In addition to building up consumer trust, it helps get things ready to enter into an even more competitive market.
Selling a smartphone is not likely to be a simple task, even for Amazon. This is not a company known for passing any large amount of control to their partners. While it is standard practice for carriers to demand custom devices, it is hard to imagine a Kindle phone going that way. The whole point of Amazon’s hardware development is to lock people into a fairly closed loop of media services provided by Amazon and nobody else. Allowing carrier customization would seem likely to dilute their own branding somewhat.
This move would also open the company up to any number of patent disputes. It doesn’t matter whether they manage to acquire a large patent portfolio to defend against infringements, though sources indicate that this is exactly what is happening already, lawsuits over mobile devices are the norm rather than the exception right now.
On the plus side, the fact that Amazon already has a well-received fork of the popular Android OS will help them get off the ground. Despite running on Google’s software, the experience provided by the Kindle Fire is sufficiently unique to make it stand out. A similar effort released in a smartphone would provide an attractive alternative to the competition.
It would also greatly expand the potential user base for Amazon’s Appstore for Android, which many users find preferable to Google Play’s less carefully policed app store already. More users would naturally add additional pressure for app developers who might be on the fence about signing up with Amazon so far.
Since we have no more solid information aside from comments by “people who should know”, this can’t be taken too seriously. It would definitely be a smart move in some ways, but the added expenses from carriers, legal defenses, and assorted other problems particular to the mobile communications industry would make it difficult for Amazon to continue maintaining their policy of providing ridiculously low prices on all their hardware.
Would a Kindle phone sell well? Probably. Would it sell well enough for it to be worth the investment? It’s too early to tell, though Amazon seems to be considering the possibility.
It’s safe to say that the Kindle Fire has made an impression. Tablet prices are dropping across the board, some major hardware developers seem to be reconsidering their desire to enter the fray, and Amazon has increased their expected sales numbers on the order of millions of units beyond what was originally planned for the 2011 holiday season. Not only does this spell good news for Amazon’s first non-eReader (or maybe post-eReader? Hard to say precisely where to draw the line since it technically can show you books), it means that the hardware line is sure to continue and expand as time goes on.
There is some contention at the moment about exactly which Kindle Fire followup we can expect to see next. Some are certain that it will end up being a 10.1″ direct competitor for the iPad while a newer contingent citing supposedly inside information from the production chain has started indicating somewhere around 9″ as the next step. Regardless of where you would place your bet, one frequent point of speculation is the potential for a Kindle Phone.
There has been speculation before that Amazon was interested in entering into cellular devices, but until recently that seemed doomed to be nothing but a rumor. This past week, though, Citigroup analyst Mark Mahoney noted that certain checks they have done indicate that development for an Amazon Phone is already underway with delivery expected in 4th quarter 2012.
To be honest, it is hard to know what to expect moving forward. While this seems to be fairly detailed information, it feels like there is little in it for Amazon in the end. The tablet makes sense since Amazon is able to completely control the data end of things and sell at near cost, undercutting the competition. In a cellular market closely controlled by carriers, there might well be less room for such tactics. When consumers are already used to getting hardware for less than half of its suggested retail cost, budget options aren’t as shocking.
What I could definitely envision, however, is a Kindle Fire-like device with a smaller screen and optional 3G coverage along the lines of what is available for the iPad. It would work marketed as an iPod Touch competitor but still have the hardware necessary to function as a communication device should the desire arise. Even without the 3G, relying on WiFi availability, such a thing would make a big splash at the right price.
As much as it might be a difficult thing to enter into the smartphone marketplace at this time, would Amazon be willing to pass up a chance to grab hold of what is only going to continue to be an expanding market? The Kindle Fire has demonstrated for them the potential of Android devices and the fact that they already have an Android fork fully developed and customized to fully integrate into their sales systems means that much of the work is already done. Maybe it’s just optimism, but I think the Kindle Phone is definitely on its way.
Let’s assume for a moment that the Kindle Fire proves to be a successful endeavor. I don’t just mean that it sells well, since we know that it is already doing that, I mean that users love it as much as the existing Kindle line and product loyalty can be assumed to a certain extent. Where do they go next with things at that point?
Well, there are already indications of a 10″ Kindle Tablet. Personally, I’m guessing we’ll be calling it the Kindle Air by early 2012. This is based on rumors from people in the know about what is going on at Foxconn Electronics, who Amazon is said to have tapped for the production of their next device. While it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, the fact that Foxconn is also the producer of Apple’s iPad 2 hints at a more head-on confrontation over the high end tablet market. This will likely end up being what was originally known as the Kindle ‘Hollywood’ Tablet rather than anything directly upgrading the brand new Kindle Fire
A larger Kindle Tablet was always a given in most ways, though. The majority of “leaked” information leading up to the reveal of the Kindle Fire indicated that there was always meant to be a larger, more powerful option that Amazon just ran out of time to have ready to ship in time for the 2011 holiday season. We can hope that by taking more time with it we will get a device that while still affordable brings a larger display and significantly more power.
Looking to the longer term, though, Amazon has to be hoping to bring their end to end service to all areas of the portable electronics market. After all, being based on Android should make it relatively easy to port their Kindle Fire OS to anything with a screen on it. My guess, and I’m hardly alone in this, is that there is a Kindle Phone coming up down the line.
There were predictions about a possible 4″ Kindle Tablet type of device in a Wall Street Journal article some months ago featuring supposedly leaked information about the Kindle Fire. It was interesting then and it remains that way. While it would be easy to see that resulting in something along the lines of an iPod Touch competitor, though, I don’t see how that would make the kind of impression that launching a new type of Kindle should aspire to.
More likely would be a Kindle Phone. In 2010, Lab 126 representatives stated in an interview that Amazon was interested in entering into the mobile phone arena in the past, but at the time considered it out of reach for a variety of reasons. That was before the Kindle Fire and its Android fork, though, so things have changed. At this point they have the OS, the App Store, plenty of media to serve, and even an existing relationship with a major cellular provider. A phone just seems like a logical extension of putting all of these things together.
The big thing to talk about right now, as far as Amazon and the Kindle goes, is the upcoming Kindle tablet. While we have yet to receive official word from Amazon about things like release dates, technical specifications, or pretty much anything else, the more recently leaked information indicates the potential for more than just the Kindle tablet or even a series of Kindle tablets. We could be looking at a version of the same idea scaled down to a four inch screen to compete directly with the iPhone and/or iPod Touch. Did anybody else see this as a strong possibility in light of the opening of Amazon’s cloud-based music storage service?
Whether one or both comes to be is up in the air yet. It makes a lot of sense to assume that something along these lines is coming, though. Amazon already has a marketplace filled with apps that are made for use on an Android smartphone. Of course many of them will scale up just fine to a larger screen for the Kindle Tablet, but they’ll be best represented on the 4″ screen they were made for. On top of this, the ability to offer a particularly cheap device as part of the new product line will help to ensure a positive reception.
The question of whether or not it will be a real cell phone or simply something to run apps on is still rather hard to speculate on. Amazon has some existing connections to the world of cellular providers, but mainly due to the need entailed by the Kindle 3G. To launch themselves into the cell phone market at the same time as releasing their first tablet PC would seem like a great way to complicate things more than they need to be. This doesn’t necessarily rule it out, of course, since consumers would definitely welcome an affordable, functional iPhone alternative at this point, especially if it uses an LCD alternative that allows for extended battery life as some have considered likely for the entire Kindle Tablet line. Even if there is no specific function as a phone, per se, I can’t imagine that Amazon would miss the opportunity to make them into functional communication devices by allowing things like Google Voice or Skype to run through them. Since it is pretty much inevitable that the Kindle Tablets will have WiFi, as does everything these days, there will always be plenty of options.
So far there is no solid information on the potential release date for anything in this line of devices besides that it is likely to be in the second half of 2011. Given the scheduled announcement by Barnes & Noble of a new entry in the Nook series, however, it would be completely unsurprising if things are being timed for a bit of overshadowing. There has certainly been a history of competition between the two ever since the Kindle vs Nook rivalry began. The exchange should be fun, if nothing else.