The Kindle is absolutely killing it. Amazon doesn’t release sales numbers, but the whisper number in Taiwan is 4 million Kindles over the last three months of 2011.
That pales beside Apple’s almost 19 million units of iPad, but it’s the biggest number for Android tablets. And that’s a huge problem for Google.
Android, for Google, is about freedom
Android is the trojan horse that Google gives away to device manufacturers and carriers which was designed to ensure that their customers and users would be more tightly (even if virtually) connected to Google … glued tighter via digital services that generate income flow long term than the atoms & molecules that hoover cash up front.
So Android was supposed to guarantee Google’s freedom of access to users. Freedom from those device manufacturers and operating system vendors who might step between Google and users and try to sever the connection … such as making Bing the default search engine in IE. Or Siri replacing 95% of users’ need to search Google on their iPhones. Without users, there are no advertisers. Without advertisers, Google has no cash. And, as the old saying goes: no margin, no mission.
(Google’s freedom, of course, is distinct from users’ freedom. But by and large, Google has not been very evil about its efforts.)
New boss, same as the old boss
But now the Google trojan horse has a virus. A virus that infiltrated the Android dummy and took it over.
That virus is Amazon, who is using the structure and foundation of Android, but has divorced it entirely from it’s Google services roots. Unplug from Google (music, search, mail, apps, ads); plug in to Amazon (music, books, TV, products, movies, etc. etc. etc.).
Open source is … well … open
The reason Amazon is able to do this is the same reason Android grew so quickly in the first place: open source. Android never would have grown the way it did without three factors:
- It’s open source, so anyone can get the code, change the code, and re-release the code
- It improved rapidly after Google saw Apple reveal what a modern mobile OS should be
- It got big just as Apple was unleashing massive change in the mobile landscape, Microsoft/Nokia/BlackBerry all abysmally failed to respond with any even marginally capable riposte, and the carriers were desperate to compete with iPhone
But the biggest reason was number 1: free, baby, free.
It’s hard to compete with free. Free X beats marginally better X+1 … and Windows Mobile, Symbian, and BB OS were all very definitively unfree. Even better, Android quickly got better than tired old WinMo, complicated Symbian, and limited BB OS. Then it was free and good, even free and better. Irresistable!
(Of course, Android is no longer free. Due to patent encumbrances, Microsoft probably makes more money off Android right now than Google does, at least in the short term. Apple probably will start making money by licensing patents to Android device manufacturers as well. But still: it’s better, and it remains cheap.)
Hewers of wood & drawers of water
Now that Google has so kindly provided a great almost-free platform for small mobile devices, including tablets, Amazon is capitalizing on it by hijacking the result for its own use. Google won’t make a penny on any Kindle shipped, because:
- Amazon glue has replaced the Google glue
- Amazon even replaced the Google app store with an Amazon app store
Rock & roll, baby! This is how you win: turn your opponent’s strength into your strength. It’s very Sun Tzu of Jeff Bezos and company. And it’s turned Google’s hard work at creating a competitive moat of protection and offence into Amazon’s best weapon.
Nice to know you’re working for Amazon if you’re on Google’s Android development team, isn’t it? And due to the nature of open source software, that genie don’t go back into that box. Ever.
Thinking, thinking, thinking
If Kindle continues to be the default Android tablet by virtue of market choice, Google will be cut out of the market it created. And I don’t see how they can get that trojan horse turned around and properly supporting the company that built it.
The only option is continuing to innovate on Android – making it so awesome, and making the connection to Google services so essential – that users will demand the “real Android” experience they can only get from Google glue.
Almost every step on that path also sharpens Amazon’s sword.
Good luck, Google!