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Could Amazon Be Planning a Google Android Tablet and a Software Suite?

Amazon (AMZN) plans an Android app market to compete with Google's (GOOG), originally according to a Wall Street Journal report and now confirmed by Engadget, which uncovered the welcome packet that prospective developers are receiving.

The move is getting a lot of play, but for the life of me I can't see why anyone finds it surprising. What is more likely, I think, is that Amazon is using an Android marketplace as a springboard for its own software elements and, eventually, to position the Kindle as a tablet for business and education use. And -- Who knows? -- maybe Amazon plans to release an Android-based tablet.

There should be little surprise that Amazon would plan an Android marketplace. The company already sells downloadable software, including a variety of games and even such titles as Intuit (INTU) Quickbooks Pro or Symantec (SYMC) Norton AntiVirus. In addition, Amazon sells smartphones, service plans, and accessories. Selling apps was inevitable. What would have been surprising was if Amazon didn't set up an app store.

The intent will be to become broader in scope. However, Android is the obvious start, as iPhone developers aren't allowed to sell through Amazon, Windows Phone 7 isn't even available yet, webOS needs a big boost from HP (HPQ), and even Nokia (NOK) has a hard time selling Symbian apps.

The Journal sees this as a major advance in Amazon's competition with Apple (AAPL) iTunes and sees Google as a "formidable rival" with 80,000 apps, although the report notes that Google doesn't screen its apps. Ha.

Google is one of the worst merchandisers you can find. Search? Yup, the company gets it like few others. But knowing how to effectively sell products online? I offer two words: Nexus One.

Amazon has mastered search in a retail context. As the developer welcome packet notes, the retailer will test and approve apps, so it will create a trusted marketplace that should help draw buyers. There is the wealth of ebooks and music that Amazon can offer, and Google has yet to create its online Editions bookstore. (According to the Publishers Lunch newsletter from Cader Books -- sorry, but no free link -- apparently Google had wanted to announce the service at the currently running annual Frankfurt Book Fair, but changed its plans recently.)

A long series of Amazon job postings for mobile platform software engineer, manager, tester, and product manager positions suggests that the company has wider plans. Here are some clues from various postings that more is coming:

  • "Amazon Kindle is a revolutionary reading device, the #1 best-selling product on all of Amazon, and one of the most innovative and fast growing businesses at Amazon. Amazon has also developed significant digital and mobile businesses that include Amazon MP3, Amazon Video on Demand, IMDB, Amazon Mobile store, and Audible."
  • "As a Product Manager in the Digital and Mobile Platforms and Applications group, you will help define and build future digital products and applications for You will participate in developing the strategy and vision for the group, and you will develop and look after product roadmaps and features based on team strategy and vision."
  • "Development experience on multiple Platforms (J2ME, BREW, Cocao, Symbian, Google Android, Series 60, Series 40, Windows Mobile, WebOS, PalmOS, IE, Safari, FireFox) and mobile devices (Apple iPhone, RIM Blackberry, Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony Ericsson)"
  • " We're looking for an exceptional Senior Quality Assurance Engineer (or an SDE-T) who is passionate about the opportunity to evolve Kindle into an indispensable asset for students, educators, and a wide range of enterprise customers."
None of these is a single smoking gun. However, take them together and they sketch an outline for broader software ambitions. Amazon already has a software development team that created cross-platform versions of the Kindle reader. Why stop there?

That brings me to the idea of an Android-based tablet. Staples (SPLS) will begin selling the Kindle tomorrow. Amazon knows that it must expand its reach if it is to counter the potential threat of tablets. Although the company will have apps for those other platforms, Jeff Bezos would much rather lock the customers tight. So an Android tablet as another Kindle version with and a greater chance to compete head-to-head with the iPad is almost a necessity. (Although, as my BNET colleague Damon Brown points out, Amazon has a long to straighten out just to keep itself from being crushed between Amazon and Google.) And, as it turns out, TechCrunch recently heard rumors that this would happen. Nice to know that sometimes reality seems to follow strategic logic.


Box image: courtesy, Android logo: courtesy Google.