As Amazon Enters the Phone Game, It's All About the (Android) Apps

by Ostatic Staff - Jun. 19, 2014

There is much hubbub around Amazon's Fire Phone this week. The newly announced smartphone is Amazon's first foray into smartphones, and the press is heralding many of the innovative new hardware-driven features in the phone, some of which will make reading and consuming content very easy.

However, Amazon's Fire phone strategy is going to raise questions about whether Amazon should have embrraced Android and its app ecosystem more fully. Here's why.

The $200 price tag on Fire phones seems pretty high, but it will make sense for people who consume a lot of the content that Amazon provides and shop on Amazon.

What will the experience of using Fire phones be like? If you've used the Kindle Fire tablet, it will be somewhat familiar because these tablets run Fire OS, a custom build of Android from Amazon. However, ExtremeTech makes some good points about Amazon's actual stance toward Android and the apps available for Android devices:

"One aspect of Android you won’t find on the Fire Phone is the part everyone associates with Android — there are no Google apps or services. Amazon is forking Android for each of its devices, usually grabbing one of the newer versions of Google’s software from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) when the time comes to develop. The open source build of Android comes with none of Google’s framework built-in because those parts are proprietary."

In short, users of Fire phones are going to get Amazon's tools and services as opposed to Google's. True, Amazon has its own Silk browser, a proven cloud solution and lots of other good tools it can offer up on these phones. 

But there is no evidence that developers will necessarily take existing Android apps and customize them for Amazon's Appstore. Amazon might create incentives for them to do so, but the Amazon Appstore is nowhere near as rich as the app ecosystem for true Android devices. 

This is the same issue I've discussed in talking about Firefox OS phones. It's all about the apps. If Amazon's Fire phones are to be a resounding success, they are going to need a very healthy ecosystem of apps to attract users. And Amazon is entering this fray as a late player.

Developers are interested in creating apps for platforms where they can make money. In the short run, Amazon may be well advised to simply offer cash incentives to Android app developers who can take their apps to Amazon's Appstore. Look for that, or other similar incentives, to follow the announcement of the Fire phones.