in Considerations, Innovation, Mobile Phones

It's A Technology War (No More!)

The recent article “Amazon invites developers to come up with Apps for Kindle” led me to some more considerations on the rumored Apple tablet.

Let’s start with a quick recap of what Amazon announced last Thursday:

The Kindle Development Kit enables developers to build active content that leverages Kindle’s unique combination of seamless and invisible 3G wireless delivery over Amazon Whispernet, high-resolution electronic paper display that looks and reads like real paper, and long battery life of seven days with wireless activated. For example, Handmark is building an active Zagat guide featuring their trusted ratings, reviews and more for restaurants in cities around the world, and Sonic Boom is building word games and puzzles.

Starting next month, participants in the limited beta will be able to download the Kindle Development Kit, access developer support, test content on Kindle, and submit finished content. Those wait-listed will be invited to participate as space becomes available. The Kindle Development Kit includes sample code, documentation, and the Kindle Simulator, which helps developers build and test their content by simulating the 6-inch Kindle and 9.7-inch Kindle DX on Mac, PC, and Linux desktops.

[via Amazon press release]

This is what almost every single Kindle owner was expecting and it really opens up a world of possibilities for the Kindle.

Going through the press release I think that a few questions arise naturally:

  • Who is going to pay for all of the data traffic generated by applications over the 3G network? As of today the traffic generated by the kindle itself may be considered quite low, but when you start playing with great applications the game changes dramatically. From what I have read on the web it seems that an application may not consume more that 100 Kbytes of data per month and that any additional Mbyte will be charged to the developer at 15 cent USD (?!?). More details on that here.
  • There will be an application store? We may assume it will be the Amazon Store.
  • Will third party application be allowed to charge the customers for additional services as it happen with the Apple in app purchase?
  • If the developer will be allowed to sell it’s application which will be the revenue share model?

If you look at these questions you can easily understand that the answer to these question will define the success of the initiative for Amazon and have already made the success of Apple.

It is quite clear that with these questions on the table the Amazon Kindle SDK is no threat at all to Apple iPhone or whatever Apple will come up with in the next few weeks.

We may also want to consider this SDK announcement from a different perspective. When we hear about a new mobile SDK release we all think to the Apple announcement. We will all be able to create cool applications on a neat device. Maybe what Amazon is trying to do here is to open up the Kindle to a very specific set of applications that will be able to leverage the Kindle peculiarities: e-ink display, battery life, fantastic readability, etc. If you question me about what kind of applications these would be, well, I have no answers right now.

What Amazon has done has also much deeper implications.

While I was visiting CES in Las Vegas I have seen dozens of eBook readers. From the very last Chinese manufacturer to the most important hardware manufacture. I may have be missing something but from none of them I heard the word SDK.

This basically means that the battlefield for eBook readers has rapidly changed. The eBook need to be able to read books but it MUST be open to applications. We are shifting the product to a different use bringing it closer to a tablet device.

Once again Apple has pushed a shift in the industry and Amazon has acknowledged the fact that in order to survive to the upcoming “whatever tablet from Apple” they need to create a complete ecosystem around their product.

With this recent announcements Amazon has started to create an ecosystem and that’s fine. If we compare that ecosystem with Apple we can notice that there are at least two critical elements missing: retail stores and the customer experience in the retail store.

Let’s try another approach and look at Google. They already had a great ecosystem in the cloud but they were missing the hardware. Now they lined up the Nexus 1 mobile phone and they are going to play a very similar game Apple and Amazon will play, or are playing now.

Same is doing Microsoft, even if not directly but with partnerships.

The technology is now there, and it’s going to be cheaper and cheaper (apart from Apple, but that’s a different story). The ecosystems have to be built and not each ecosystem may prove to be stable enough in the long run, but it is now clear that the war is no more on how cool your product is but on how you will be able to attract developers, providing customers with great product and services and making them feel home when they use your device.

The battlefield in now in the User Experience and in the Developers Community.

User Experience. I am convinced that this is the most important thing you should look at while designing your product. As I said, technology is there, but Eser Experience is not there for most vendors out there.

Developers Community. Everybody in the industry will be trying to attract developers on their side. The are lot of one man band out there that develop great and cool products and you want those guys to be on your side in this battle. How do you attract them?

In the first place you may want to make your SDKs as cool and simple as possible. Provide them with all the tools they need: IDEs, emulators, whatever will make the developer life easy. Then try to offer a decent way to market their product in your Application Store, and, finally, show them the money.

A good question to answer would be: what role will have mobile telecommunications operators?

I have my opinion on this, but this will come in another post.

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