After flopping with the Fire Phone, it seems Amazon is looking to dip its toe back into the mobile pool. According to a report from The Information, Amazon is hoping to partner with smartphone OEMs to deeply integrate its services into handsets. The report claims that Amazon “has discussed working with phone brands at a ‘factory level’ to integrate its services with devices in a deeper way than simply preloading apps.”
“In essence, the retailer would like its partners’ phones to resemble Amazon’s line of Kindle Fire tablets that it builds on its own,” the report states. The phones would be full of Amazon services and encourage people to become a member of Amazon Prime.
The original reporting comes from The Information (paywall):
Amazon has discussed working with phone brands at a “factory level” to integrate its services with devices in a deeper way than simply preloading apps as it currently does with some companies, says one person familiar with Amazon’s thinking. This would help Amazon gain a measure of influence over Android smartphone software, which is owned by a competitor, Google.
I can’t help but wonder wether this may have more to do with making Amazon Echo more portable than anything else.1 Management at Amazon knows as much as anyone in the industry that Android OEMs are very much bound by contract to conditions Google dictates.
An always-on Alexa voice interface, integrated at factory level -maybe with a dedicated separate microphone-, could provide differentiation for partnering OEMs and might be allowed by Google’s contracts (by not being actively forbidden). (I have not seen current versions of those contracts. The ones I have seen –some leaked to the public years ago– don’t forbid this.) Amazon could also help with distribution and create attractive bundles, for prime subscribers for example. (There are rumors Amazon Prime might be part of this new initiative. I would be surprised if it weren’t.)
One other aspect that speaks for Amazon as a partner: Android OEMs are starved for profits. At this point most of them will try anything. Market analyst Ben Bajarin (paywall):
Focusing on working with existing OEMs to bring them a layer of value and revenue share in Prime subscriptions, revenue share of e-commerce transactions, and maybe even share in ad revenue, is a great strategy to help Amazon gain new customers and help the OEMs make more money on the razor thin margins they are making on hardware today. Other than Samsung and Apple, very few smartphone OEMs make much money and if the revenue share is lucrative, I could see this being a no-brainer for OEMs. While it is unlikely these OEMs could abandon Google to use Amazon’s Android OS, there are certainly ways Amazon could be deeply embedded into Android.
The Kindle and the Fire device family (from tablets to TV) are based on a fork of Android. Hence:
Amazon maintains a ton of APIs for Android that compete with Google services. Amazon has Android solutions for an app store, in-app purchases, mobile ads, cloud messages, a map API, authentication, and tons of other features typically provided by the Google Play Store and Google Play Services.
But this is not what this can be about. At least not yet. Some other ideas by Ars Technica:
Amazon could produce some other features that don’t compete with core Google services and ask for those to be integrated. The Fire Phone had “Firefly,” which was an object scanner app that could identify music, TV shows, actors, art, books, and tons of other things and funnel you to a related Amazon purchase. In our review, Andrew Cunningham called Firefly “hands-down the Fire Phone’s best feature.” Would customers view this as a welcome addition to their phones or just more bloatware for the pile?
- Or in other words, to continuingly use voice to create an ever incompassing platform that brings control finally back to Amazon, after the online retail giant lost it by loosing the mobile OS race completely. ↩