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Monday April 11, 2011 2:53 pm

Amazon is stealing Android from Google

Android Appstore Amazon

I have been watching Amazon's recent moves involving Android with great fascination. Two weeks ago, it launched the Amazon Appstore that focuses on Android apps, and last week it announced a cloud-based music service with a special version just for Android. Although Google has its own Android Marketplace, Amazon is bringing a more structured store to Android with room for users comments and reviews—a key step to vetting the apps it carries.

This is a very strategic move by Amazon, and it could actually bring some sanity and consistency to the Android development community and all Android users. At the moment, Google's approach to creating Android is scattered. There are so many versions of this OS floating around that the OEMs who license Android are increasingly frustrated with Google's lack of discipline in laying out a consistent roadmap for Android that they can follow.

At first, Google said it would have one version of Android for smartphones and another for tablets. Now it says that it will merge both versions into a product codenamed Ice Cream and that it most likely will be the same OS used on Google TVs in the future as well. Initially, vendors could only use one version for devices with up to 7 inch screens and another one for screens larger then 7 inches but less then 11 inches.

Part of the problem with Google's Android strategy is that it thinks Android needs to be open source. This means that Google creates the core source code and then vendors who use it can customize it to deliver various forms of differentiation. While that is great in concept, what it has led to is various levels of fragmentation within Android devices, apps, and even services. Interestingly, Google's main goal with Android is to get it on as many devices as possible and to use it as a medium to deliver Google search and advertisments to millions of users around the world. As I understand it, it has an annual goal to bring in $10.00 of ARPU (average revenue per unit) annually by the end of 2012. If it could get Android on 1 billion smartphones, tablets, TVs, car navigation systems, etc, that could mean as much as $10 billion annually to its bottom line sometime in the future (if it achieves this level of success).

But since Google is an engineering driven company, the focus has always been about delivering an OS that meets the goals I mentioned, not necessarily to create a structured OS with strict guidelines and enforce rigid practices to deliver a constant user experience between devices. It has pushed this open source model for Android from the beginning, and now it's coming back to bite Google in the form of serious fragmentation, as well as causing continual frustration and angry feedback from the licensees.

There are reasons why Apple and Microsoft's OSs are extremely successful and why Linux has struggled to gain any market share beyond its use in servers and controllers. Apple has total control of its OS, UI, and, in its case, standardization of certain connectors that are part of its IP. That means that all hardware and software developers must subscribe to Apple's strict rules and SDK structure in order for their products to work on Mac OS X and iOS. This control makes sure users' experiences on Apple products are consistent.

The same goes for Microsoft's Windows OS. Microsoft drives the SDK and best practice rules, and it's quite strict with OEMs and ODMs about what can be done with Windows outside of its core OS and UI. This too brings great sanity to developers and users because they know that each Window application will work the same on any Windows PC they use. No fragmentation here. But with Linux, multiple versions exist, and with most, it's customized for use on each device/application. There is no consistency to Linux UI; thus any attempt at making it a desktop OS has failed so far.

This is why Amazon's ventures with Android are so interesting. Even though Google will continue down this open source path and stumble and bumble through the process of continually delivering updated versions of a core OS, Amazon could become a major influence in determining which version goes mainstream and which software OS version developers support. More importantly, Amazon could become the trusted source for applications and services and, in the end, steal a lot of thunder from Google. In fact, I think that Amazon could become the major disruptor of Android apps and emerge as the eventual center of the Android universe.

In Google's grand scheme, it may even like this. As I mentioned above, its goal is to get Android on as many devices as possible and use it to drive search and ads through this Google OS platform. At the moment, Google has not declared its own cloud music service, which is the one area that it could have concern with. But if Google continues down the path it's on, with a store that's pretty much open and not vetted, then Amazon will take over by giving the Android audience a safe and structured approach to discovering and acquiring Android apps and thus tie them to its services. And Amazon could also drive more standardization within the Android development community as well.

Many people were surprised that Amazon only announced a cloud based storage and music service tied to songs bought through the Amazon store, because they had hoped for a broader initiative from Amazon. But we hear that Amazon decided to beat Apple to the punch with the cloud and music store service, knowing full well that Apple will do something similar but something more. It is the "something more" that is still a mystery. It appears that while Amazon may have more to offer in the future, it's going to wait to see what Apple does with its cloud services sometime this summer before Amazon shows more of its products and strategy. But you can bet they will also be tied to Android.

The Amazon Appstore is already a big hit. It's on track to become the most trusted source for acquiring apps for any Android device. If Amazon continues down this path towards greater influence with users and developers, it really could become the trusted source for Android guidance, apps, and connected services.

This article, written by Tim Bajarin, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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