Rumors of an Amazon branded smartphone have started to fly suggesting that the retail giant is looking for viable options to enter the smartphone business after seeing an immense success with its tablet, the Kindle Fire.
A big question about this story has been hitting me for two days that whether the rumored Amazon smartphone will ever be able to achieve the same milestone or not. My less than stellar mind says no.
Before diving deep into my thoughts, let us first recap the launch of Kindle Fire and the factors that helped it become the best selling Android tablet ever.
Back in 2011, when the iPad was enjoying unrivaled success in the tablet market, it was only Amazon who was able to successfully challenge it with its own tablet, the Kindle Fire. Amazon did what other manufacturers were doing wrong:
- First, it kept the price of Kindle Fire as low and affordable as possible knowing the fact that there are many people who’re interested in owning a tablet, but cannot afford an iPad.
- Secondly, Amazon also realized that people primarily use their tablets to consume content — read books, magazines, watch movies, TV shows, etc., and so, it offered Kindle Fire owners with access to a huge library of its digital content.
And Boom! The Kindle Fire started selling like hotcakes. In just three months after its launch, it had managed to capture approximately a quarter of the tablet market share while other Android tablets were still struggling to reach even 5% of it despite boasting superlative specifications.
But can Amazon achieve the same feat with a smartphone? I doubt it. Smartphones are totally a different story.
Kindle Fire’s most impressive feature was probably its price — 199 bucks. Despite the fact that it offered virtually zero profit margin to Amazon, Amazon still turned it into a profit making machine by using it as a medium to sell eBooks, magazines and other digital content to Kindle Fire owners. But can Amazon do the same with a smartphone? No. People rarely read books or magazines on their smartphones — they instead consume applications, which Amazon doesn’t have enough to offer.
Applications drive an ecosystem and they’re probably the biggest hurdle for Amazon. Although the rumored Amazon smartphone will run on Android, which has more than 600,000 apps available for it in the Play Store, Amazon will undoubtedly replace the Play Store with its own App Store in the phone — as it did with the Kindle Fire — which has approximately only 37,000 apps or just 6% of apps in the Play Store.
Apps are the sole reason why Android and Apple are dominating the smartphone market and the sole reason why Windows Phone has failed to take off despite sporting a superb software. On a comparison note, even Windows Phone has more than twice the number of apps available in Amazon’s App store.
There are just not enough apps in the App Store for Amazon to sell a smartphone with negligible profit margin and still make money out of it on the longer run by selling apps to those phone owners. This leaves Amazon with no option for making profits other than selling its future phone at full price and that too with a decent profit margin.
This demands another question to be answered — what will be then the selling factor of its phone? Relatively cheap price?
Yes Amazon can do that. In fact, it’ll have to do that considering the fact that it will be nearly impossible for it fight with Samsung or Apple at similar price levels. But it cannot manufacture a phone that is both cheap and high on specifications at the same time. It’ll be most probably based on Android and so, the phone needs to be high on specifications or else the result will definitely be a slow phone with a choppy user interface, like we’ve seen in the Kindle Fire. And people will hate that.
Interestingly, Adrian Hughes of ZDNet thinks that Amazon can adopt a different game-plan by developing an user friendly interface to give Samsung, HTC and Sony a run for their money. I’ll just quote his words here:
While there’s no doubt that Android smartphones have experienced tremendous success, one of the complaints that I hear leveled against the platform is that it isn’t particularly friendly, especially to those who don’t consider themselves to be technically literate.
… a much-needed dumbing down of the platform that could give it an enormous advantage over both Apple iPhone and the entirety of the Android ecosystem.
A dumbed-down Android experience could be just what average users are waiting for..
But, in my opinion, he’s wrong. Although it is true that Android is not very user-friendly, Amazon will still not be able to beat Samsung and others just by making its UI user-friendly as Samsung has already been doing that for long and so have other manufacturers.
Compare the following two screenshots of dialers present in ICS and Samsung Touchwiz to get an idea of what I’m talking about:
It took my dad two full days to figure out that the clock icon on the top is the call logs tab. And it is obvious — how is a non-techy person ever going to discover that touching that clock icon will open call logs? But Samsung’s dialer (on the right) mentions the tab names clearly and makes it easier for laymen to understand the UI. It is one of the many areas in TouchWiz UI where Samsung has made considerable efforts to make the UI as user-friendly as possible.
In short, an user-friendly UI is also not going to help Amazon to win this race of smartphone wars. In fact, I cannot think of a single distinctive feature with which Amazon can impress consumers and I’m very skeptical of its success unless it manages to pull out something that… changes everything.