Amazon's Kindle Smartphone Will Disrupt the Carrier Model

A smartphone from Amazon is an intoxicating prospect for those of us who watch the mobile world. While Apple brought a huge amount of disruption into the space with the launch of the iPhone (arguably changing the definition of what a smartphone should do), Steve Jobs and his Jesus phone never attacked the carriers.
The iPhone, for all the world-changing mythos that has built up around it, never challenged the dominance of the carriers either at the US launch, or anywhere else around the world. No other hardware manufacturer had the power then.
Perhaps Amazon will in 2012.
Carriers have two main advantages, the first being access and the second being distribution. The proliferation of ‘pay as you go’ contractless deals on every network means that picking up a sim card for an unlocked ‘Kindle phone’ means gaining access to a network of some description should not be a problem for users – and a quick check on Amazon here in the UK shows that pre-pay sim cards for the major networks are all available through the website.
Of course Amazon has Whispernet which provides data connectivity for their 3G Kindle readers. They could negotiate more data and voice minutes in a similar way to virtual networks such as MaxRoamand run the whole service themselves. That might be an option for the US and European markets, but I feel Amazon will go for a sim-free approach for any handset they release.
Because just like the Kindle Fire, they will be able cross-subsidize the Kindle phone with digital content from Amazon and can leverage Amazon Prime.
They can also negate the carriers other advantage – distribution. If there’s one thing that Amazon is good at, it’s selling boxes of ‘things’ and getting them to their customers as soon as possible. Their front page is one of the biggest store-fronts in the world. They have an Android based store for applications. And they have an established brand name in Kindle.
Google did start to look at this route back in 2010 with the Nexus One, but customer support and service was not a strength of Google. For Amazon it’s a core competency. Almost all the pieces are in place for Jeff Bezos’ company to do an end run around the carriers and successfully sell their smartphone direct to the public.
The one piece remaining would be the smartphone itself. Amazon have built up a huge amount of experience with the e-ink and Android powered Kindles, and my assumption would be that a Kindle phone would carry on using Amazon’s fork of Android. Telephony features would need to be added and integrated into the OS, more robust cellular technology will likely be required for voice and increased data usage, and other expected smartphone features such as mapping (ahem) would need to be coded or licensed.
…but the opportunity for Amazon is there. Given the drive that Bezos displayed when he announced the Kindle Fire, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a Kindle Phone at some point in the next twelve months.

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