Fretful Amazon wishes it could get more Android action

Phone makers: please take our tat!

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. Amazon reportedly wants “deeper integration” with Android to persuade more phone makers to promote Amazon services.

Specifics are absent from the report at The Information, which suggests “factory level” bundling. The only Amazon initiative that could seriously shift the industry strategically - developing a middleware stack that would tempt OEMs away from relying on Google’s GMS binary blob - isn’t mentioned. Most likely, because such an initiative doesn’t actually exist.

Amazon uses a fork of Android for its Fire tablets. However, the spectacular failure of Amazon’s gimmicky and expensive Fire Phone - the flop of 2014 - shows how difficult it is to compete with mainstream Android. The Fire Phone came without Gmail, YouTube or Google Maps and had no easy way of loading them, either.

The Information does point out that Amazon has a dozen decent services – Kindle, Prime, Instant Video – and has yet to build its Echo technology into a phone.

Even if OEMs warm to Amazon, however, it has an uphill battle, given Google’s established platform control over Android. And OEMs who chafe as Google pulls back on the bit only really have themselves to blame. It’s a case of an entire industry (several, if you count ISVs, OEMs and services) failing to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth. Today Google controls Android to such an extent, OEMs are scared even to provide information to competition authorities even in confidence. But whose fault is that?

Apple caused a huge shift in user expectations with the launch of the iPhone in 2007, making established mobile platforms look clunky and irrelevant. OEMs who just wanted something competitive to sell had no interest in the long term, and were wary of consortiums. With good reason, as Symbian had advanced so slowly. Faced with a Prisoner’s Dilemma situation they saw no reason to co-operate - there were greater riches on offer if they went alone.

So every Android OEM consoled itself instead with Google’s honeyed promise that they could differentiate themselves and prosper. They invested heavily in skins, themes and “unique social experiences”. For a year or two it worked, but today, many users prefer a vanilla “Stock” Android.

Going even further back, over a decade, operators and OEMs developed a common industry platform called SavaJe, based on Java. The operators didn’t want any one handset company (eg, Nokia) calling the shots and believed Java would be attractive for developers to write for. By 2006 the venture had died.

Today, a Java-based phone OS dominates, with Android bagging Google $31bn in revenue and $22bn in profit, an Oracle lawyer blurted out last week. (The information was confidential and the court transcript has been pulled).

Mobile network operators, service companies and rival industries (to Google, every industry is a current or potential rival industry) have had years to create a middleware stack that frees their dependence on Google. And they failed to do so. ®

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