The Amazon/? Android Eco-System

[This post builds on an exchange with Tom Riley on twitter]

I’ve seen and heard a few reports about Samsung producing an Android tablet for Amazon, and, while I’ve been told things which would appear to make that very difficult for Samsung specifically, an Amazon backed Android tablet is something that I’ve seen as a distinct possibility for a while (which is why I suggested it in my talk at DroidCon London last year).

There is one major problem for Amazon though; The Google Android Apps (or GApps for short). They’re an all-or-nothing deal and, as any developer who’s tried listing on a carrier operated Android app store will tell you, having Android Market on a device means that any other app stores don’t see strong sales, so shipping a tablet which has the Google apps and Amazons app store probably isn’t a great idea.

So this leads to the question; What would Amazon do if it didn’t include the GApps on it’s device?

So far Amazon have avoided completely “free” services so they’re still only on the fringes of what the GApps offer. Sure there’s Amazon Music Locker service, but they’re nowhere in terms of Email, Mapping, etc., and I personally don’t see it as something they’ll want to get into given the existing large players in those areas and the lack of direct revenue from those types of services.

With this in mind I can see them partnering up to get those services, and only two names come to mind; Yahoo, and AOL.

There are plenty of other contenders for email, but only these two can offer the range of “free” services Amazon needs to supplement what it can currently offer (Mapping, Search, Calendaring, etc.) and have a proven track record with the number of users Amazon might be looking at given yearly Kindle sales are measured in millions. If you’re wondering why Microsoft and Bing aren’t on this list it’s because I csn’t see Amazon partnering with a company who would also be pushing a competing Eco-system (Windows Phone 7).

If Amazon do partner with one of these two I would see the choice of which one to partner with as an indicator of Amazons non-US plans. At the moment Amazon, like Google, is US focused. Both certainly make a lot of noise about being global companies, but you only need to look at where they roll out services first, and the US-only offerings both have, to see that the rest of the world is secondary to their US plans, to the extent they some times they seem to forget about the rest of the world (e.g. Currently Googles Android Market only shows “Featured tablet applications” on Android 3.0 tablets located in the US, in the rest of the world there’s no way to see which apps are designed to work well on the Tablet OS).

If Amazon want to go toe-to-toe with Google it would make sense to select AOL. A deal with AOL could include access to Time Warners media catalog “on the cheap”, and enhance Amazons US offerings. If, on the other hand, Amazon want to gain momentum in the Android world globally before going taking on Google, then Yahoo makes more sense due to it’s stronger global presence.

To me the Microsoft/Nokia deal shows that US companies looking to get involved in the mobile market are going to start looking outside the US to build and support any US efforts. With the EU being larger than the US in terms of 2010 GDP, and with the grown of Chinas' economy, there’s a lot of money which can be made which could support the kind of publicity campaign needed to make a serious impression on the US Market.

So this leads to the inevitable question; Would developers support an Amazon-centric Android ecosystem?

Well, if it was global, then I would say Yes. Things like US developers being able to buy and develop on an Android 3.0 device (the Motorola Xoom) for at least a month before any Android 3.0 hardware was available outside the US mean many non-US developers feel like 2nd class citizens (especially given the poor performance of the Android 3.0 emulator), so a level playing field where most developers know they’re going to get new devices at the same time as those in other countries could be very appealing.

If it followed their AppStore model and was US focused, then support would probably be a lot weaker. We already have Google who offer the services and focus on the US, so why would developers support an alternative which offers them nothing new?

In short, the key to how successful Amazons Android eco-system would be could be largely down to how willing Amazon are to take a risk, and that’s something that’ll be interesting to see…