Amazon Plans on Stealing Android Developers From Google

by Ben Bajarin   |   September 2nd, 2011

You may think such a statement sounds absurd. However if a recent report from MG Siegler at TechCrunch is true then Amazon wants to lure Android developers for their own version of Android and Kindle products.

Tim Bajarin in an April PC Magazine column explored this similar line of thinking and now we have more data confirming this assumption.

Earlier today MG Siegler published his scoop on the upcoming Amazon Kindle Tablet. Throughout the report he details his own experience using the yet unreleased and unannounced tablet.

It is interesting to think about how and more importantly why MG Siegler came about this information. This is an important baseline for us to establish since it determines whether or not we can count the details of his experience as credible or rumor.

Given the amount of detail disclosed to MG and that the conditions of his arrangement were that he would get info but couldn’t take pictures, we can reasonably assume this is a planned leak. We also learned that he was in Seattle for this encounter and we know Amazon’s headquarters are in Seattle which strengthens the planned leak assumption.

Strategically this also makes sense for Amazon. MG is very smart, and he has also been one of Android’s harshest critics. He also covers Apple. A lot. So to give the scoop to a rather influential Apple journalist, especially if the outcome of his reaction is positive, which it was, is a smart PR move. My applause for Amazon PR.

All of that to say that I believe his account is credible and is a planned PR leak from Amazon. Therefore I am assuming his account is correct and the information is not rumor or speculation and therefore credible.

Now on to the part where Amazon wants to steal Android developers.

MG details the version of Android as “nothing like the Android you’re used to seeing.” So as to be expected Amazon has taken and created their own version of Android. Because Amazon has their own marketplace they don’t need Google for anything therefore customization is feasible. Google only allows “approved” versions of Android to get Market Place Certification, so if an OEM wants Android Market on their device they have to play by Google’s rules.

Amazon never wanted to, has no intention, and has no need to play by Google’s rules.

The most interesting detail of MG’s account is the detail of what version of Android Amazon built this new Kindle experience on. He details that it is built on some version prior to Android 2.2 Froyo.

This is fascinating.

Why would Amazon not use Froyo? Why would they not use Gingerbread? Why would they not want to go live with Ice Cream Sandwich? Why would they choose what many would deem a supremely inferior and outdated version of Android to build their experience on?

The answer I believe lies in Amazon’s desire to lock Google completely out of benefiting in every way from their tablet, should it be successful. First off Google made major changes which included adding restrictions when they released Froyo. A strong case could be made that Android was more open prior to Froyo. More importantly many of the toolkits and technologies related to the SDK for Froyo evolved.

My point is that to take a version of Android that is not cutting edge means that Amazon intends to make their version cutting edge and will most likely release their own better version of an SDK to write apps for the Kindle.

If Amazon does fork Android as MG states then it means developers will be presented with a choice. Support and develop apps for the Kindle or develop apps for the broader Android ecosystem. I believe Amazon in this move plans to entice developers to follow them down their forked path of Android. They can use their marketplace, as well as their economic incentives to get developers paid, to create all the needed nuggets to attract developers.

If Amazon can show developers the money, and I believe they can, they may have a real shot attracting loads of developers to their market place who will develop apps for their version of Android.

Given that Amazon’s version of Android is so highly customized I am guessing that they have stripped every benefit to Google in terms of data, ads, revenue etc out of this product. Which would mean that Google would not benefit at all should this Kindle succeed. In fact I would be comfortable if we agreed that in fact this Amazon Kindle is not really running Android at all.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • Anonymous

    Fascinating thesis.

    This suggests they might mix’n'match with other features. Froyo specifically included a Dalvik runtime that greatly speeds running of Android (java-like) programs; it’s an estimable piece of work and made a huge stride in performance. (I think they’re also using the technology for javascript, not that I know of real world web pages that particularly benefit that type of enhancement.)

    So either Amazon is happy with a low-performance product; they have borrowed just the new JIT from Froyo; or they are getting all hardcore about in-house software development for this device. If the latter, of course, profitability depends on a huge base of sales. And in any case, this looks like Amazon is dead serious about being that third ecosystem that you read about a certain OTHER Seattle-area firm assuming they’ll be some day.

  • Rich

    Ben, if the Amazon Kindle Tablet is not running Android, what is it running?

    • Anonymous

      It runs Android but what I am stating is that it runs a version that benefits Google in no way. For example this is already happening in China. China has taken Android and made it proprietary. Google benefits in no way from China’s version of Android. And neither do Android developers. China’s OS is based on Android but something very different. It is but isn’t, if that makes sense.

      Android was created to benefit Google, to make them money and connect to their services. When a company takes the Android framework but then strips all the benefit to Google I think its hard to clarify that as Android. Since it is become something other than Google intended. Its more like Android’s code but then it becomes something else.

      Does that make any sense? I feel like this is hard to explain.

      • Rich

        Yes it makes sense and thanks for the answer.

        • Anonymous

          no problem.

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