Amazon: Calling Apple Out

I’ve been thinking for a while now about Amazon’s strategy as it relates to embracing Android, and specifically how the moves they’ve made seem to be directly targeted at highlighting things that the Android platform makes possible and the iOS platform prevents. I’m not saying it’s their whole motivation (to prove those points) – or whether it’s even a direct intention at all – but in any event I see it as a positive result, and I felt like spelling out why.

This isn’t specifically about bashing Apple; it’s more intended as a reflection on how I think the moves that Amazon is making are going to start getting the “average user” asking the kind of questions that lead to uncovering the important differences between these platforms that I’ve been talking about for a while. The differences have always been there, but Amazon is a big enough brand that they might just get enough traction to get people thinking about these issues, even if indirectly.

[ This post is mostly for my non-tech friends, as those I have frequent tech discussions with have probably heard this a million times before from me :-) ]

The Subtle Point Behind Cloud Music

I don’t think anyone doubts that Apple has been planning for a while to release a cloud music service for their iTunes product which will be similar to what Amazon has now released with Cloud Player (and specifically the Android integration with that service). It’s only a matter of “when”, not “if” Apple will catch up on that front, at least in terms of providing the same features on their platform.

What I think is more interesting about this is the questions that will hopefully be raised in the meantime (and even after) regarding why Amazon was able to do this on Android, but iOS users can’t have it until Apple decides to do it themselves. I hear a lot of people talking about how cool the Cloud Player experience is on Android, and it’s popular enough that I imagine at least some iPhone users must be saying “I wonder why I can’t use that on my phone?“. Hopefully this will lead them to discover that Apple has policies in place that prevent competition (or “duplicating functionality” as they put it, even if they don’t have that functionality quite yet – just like what happened with podcasting in the early days of iOS).

Perhaps they will then realize the difference that the Android platform offers in this respect: if someone has a good product (Amazon Cloud Player) they are free to build and release it, responding to user demand, and they don’t have to ask Google’s permission like they would from Apple on iOS.

App Stores and Open Market Competition

[The previous point was a minor issue relative to this one]

In releasing a good, alternative app store on Android, Amazon has provided the perfect illustration of the most important (IMHO) difference between these two major platforms: the Android platform supports freedom of choice (for users and developers), whereas the iOS platform has a single gatekeeper that has a proven track record of denying access to applications they deem “bad” (with arbitrary and ever-fluctuating standards, often in spite of users’ wishes).

If Google ever were to go “evil”, or to start following in Apple’s footsteps in making decisions to ban applications from their default Android Market, it actually isn’t as big of a deal on the Android platform, since users can always obtain (and devs can always distribute) apps through other channels, be it the Amazon app store, some other market, or even direct from the company or individual developer.

If Google (hypothetically) told Amazon that from now on their Kindle app had to offer in-app purchases and Google gets a 30% cut, AND they could not account for that loss of profit margin by making their in-app price any higher than the external price for the same item (sound familiar?), Amazon wouldn’t be stuck with the choice of having to accept those terms or not be on the platform at all. The worst that could happen would be that Google could kick them out of their Market, but Amazon could continue to distribute the Kindle app to users via their own store or directly without any store at all.

While I’m still not sure that this latter point (even though it’s more important) is going to be apparent to the average user, the fact that it’s Amazon at least gives me hope that some iOS users might hear about it and think “hey, I love Amazon, I wonder if I they will do an Amazon App Store for the iPhone?“, and then eventually find out why that will not and cannot happen, and that it just might possibly influence their purchasing decisions going forward.

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11 Responses to Amazon: Calling Apple Out

  1. Dan Cameron says:

    There are some ome obvious issues with this post:
    The duplicating functionality thing is long gone. In the case of cloud music there are a ton of cloud music services that work with iOS, one is rdio. Even Apples MobileMe will stream music you have on you’re computer, if in a specific folder, it’s still no iTunes in the cloud but the ppoint being there are options, just not amazons music store. And if amazon wanted to make an app that actually works on iOS they could, thats the only reason it doesn’t now.

    The other issue is Amazon’s app store is closer to the AppStore in very way ( eg reviews, drm, cuts ), so I’m not sure how you’re drawing an opposite correlation. It’s as if amazon is copying the AppStore, good or bad, because they know it works.

    I tak out of this that amazon might be creating an android phone that’s closed and tightly controlled, maybe even dropping the android branding for their own, which would be a really good thing IMO, butthen it’s practically a clone of the iOS model.

  2. jared says:

    1. Amazon can’t make (distribute) Cloud Player for iOS unless Apple lets them, and that is the point.

    *IF* an app exists that does the same things (allows purchasing AND uploading your own files, with the option of streaming OR downloading to the local device), that’s great. If I were the developer behind such an app, I would be pretty nervous about Apple pulling my app from the store & killing my business once they release their cloud service, since they’ve done that in the past, and continue to reserve the right to do so in the future, with no recourse available to those affected. Ultimately that is the point of this example: users and devs both need Apple’s permission to put an app on a device; this isn’t the case on Android.

    2. The details of the Amazon store are irrelevant to this example; the mere fact that it *exists as an alternative* is the point. If their store is too similar to Apple’s (in terms of DRM, etc.) users and devs are free to obtain and distribute apps through other channels. This is not the case on iOS.

    If you don’t like a particular Apple policy, your only choice is to suck it up and deal with it or stop using that platform. I, of course, recommend the latter. :-)

  3. jared says:

    I should add that I don’t have a problem with anyone choosing to use the iOS platform; it’s simply my desire that they make such a choice with a more complete understanding of the freedom of choice they are giving up when they do so.

    Along with that, I would also hope that more people (given a better understanding of those freedoms and restrictions in play) would choose to influence the market away from those kind of restrictive policies by companies like Apple, by way of choosing the alternative.

    People obviously have their own reasons for choosing to use Apple products, and may or may not be aware of the trade-offs involved. Even those who are aware may value those aspects differently than I do, and I understand that as well.

    All I’m trying to say is that, in the long run, I believe that valuing platforms that encourage competition and innovation rather than stifle it would better benefit consumers, and I think that (as people educate themselves more about technology), those considerations should be valued more highly than things like “ease of use”, especially since those goals / values aren’t mutually exclusive.

  4. Dan Cameron says:

    I guess I’m just confused since the second point about an open market and amazons store contradicts the first, maybe vice versa if you look hard enough.

  5. jared says:

    There’s no contradiction there. At least I don’t see it…, in fact the points are nearly identical.

    Point #1 is that someone other than Google can release an app / service like this (Amazon and Cloud Player merely being an example) on that platform without Google’s permission. That can’t happen on the iOS platform.

    Point #2 is that someone other than Google can make and distribute apps on that platform, and even set up and run their own app store, all without ever obtaining permission or approval from Google. That also can’t happen on iOS.

    The implementation details of Amazon’s particular store (DRM, approvals, etc.) are irrelevant to the point(s) of this post, because it’s only being used as an illustration of how there is no monopoly control of app distribution on the Android platform, whereas there is on iOS.

  6. Dan Cameron says:

    If you don’t see it that’s okay but this is pure FUD ( you’re favorite term )…

    “iOS users can’t have it until Apple decides to do it themselves…Hopefully this will lead them to discover that Apple has policies in place that prevent competition”

    Again, there isn’t an Amazon cloud app because Amazon decided not to make on ( or hasn’t yet ). Rdio’s app is a good example, since it compares in features ( from what you said ), of an app that isn’t being blocked or “prevented”.

    I think you’re point would be better served IMO, to express that Amazon can do whatever they want on Android OS…make an app and make a store to distribute that app, then another debate could rage on why little guys still need the big stores to breakout.

  7. jared says:

    Ok; i’ll admit that single line was speculation, but it was also a minor aspect of that first point, which still very much holds true. IF Amazon wanted to release on iOS (and I don’t know why they wouldn’t) they could still only do it IF Apple allowed them to.

    The rest of that line / excerpt (regarding their anti-competitive policies and history) has pretty clear evidence behind it. They have removed apps from the store in the past right before they release the competing features themselves, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suspect that they’ll do it again.

    Again, IF Rdio supports *all* those features (purchasing + uploads, streaming + local download and storage) it wouldn’t surprise me if their app gets pulled when iTunes cloud is released. Even if it doesn’t, though, my point (that the possibility exists that it could be pulled on iOS, but not Android, and that they’ve done similar things in the past) still stands.

  8. jared says:

    After thinking about that specific point (why Amazon Cloud Player isn’t on iOS) a bit more, I think you’re speculating just as much as I am. How can you be sure they didn’t get rejected by Apple?

    In any event, I do still believe that it’s a logical assumption that it’s Apple’s restrictive policies that are preventing the release of the Amazon Cloud Player on iOS. Whether they are rejecting them up front, or whether it’s just the threat that they eventually could change their minds and pull them out later (with no recourse), or whether it’s the threat of unfair / anti-competitive purchasing rules (such as requiring in-app purchases to be available, with a 30% cut to Apple, coupled with the price restriction that in-app purchases can’t be more expensive than outside) – all of those are reasons why it might not be there.

    Going back to my original point, those problems are not an issue on other platforms like Android.

  9. Dan Cameron says:

    The iOS policies are published and the rules have changed, they’ve come out publicizing this for quite some time now and you’ve read about them I’m sure.

    Just because the Rdio app isn’t exactly the same as the Android app doesn’t diminish it as a good example.

    The notion that Apple will pull competitive apps is ridiculous, that’s a two year old argument that doesn’t hold it’s weight anymore. Name an app! Google Voice? Both Google’s and Novaks is in the store. Podcasting? Ha ha, that app was readmitted well before their policy changed. Game Center apps? Nope, they just released game center and they didn’t kick out openfeint or any other.

    Again, this type of statement isn’t necessarily correct:
    “…those problems are not an issue on other platforms like Android.”

    First, what other platforms are you talking about? Winmo, ha ha.
    Second, Amazon’s and Google’s own app store or marketplace review apps; if you’re going to speculate and spread FUD about the iTunes store, anyone can do the same thing about those stores…

    “Since there’s no iTunes app in the Amazon store or Android Market Place I’m positive that it’s being rejected, that’s probably the reason the iPhone doesn’t have an app yet either, since they want to launch them simultaneously.”

    Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

  10. jared says:

    1. Yes, the policies have changed many times, and I’m sure they can and will again in the future. That’s part of my point: at any time Apple can change their policies and kick apps off of the platform completely, which can’t happen on Android.

    2. There are all kinds of examples of this happening in the past, which I’m sure you’re well aware of. Just because at the moment their policy is a bit more friendly in specific cases (likely due to competitive pressure from Android) doesn’t mean that it can’t / won’t happen again.

    Rdio might not be a good example, because I don’t think it directly competes with what iTunes cloud is likely to offer in the same way that Amazon’s Cloud Player would. Name an app that lets you buy music (not a subscription service) on iOS; is there one? If not, do you honestly believe it’s because no one really wants to make one, or is it because Apple wouldn’t allow it? [One might exist, I don't know; this is still a side issue to the main point that it's even possible for them to prevent / ban it]

    3. The statement that “these issues are not a problem on Android” is absolutely true and is the whole point of this post. You haven’t made a single comment that addresses that primary issue yet, so I take it you’re conceding that and just arguing the details of that single small line of speculation in the post above?

    4. Of course there are review processes in place at both the Amazon and Google stores / markets. You are missing the point. The point is that if either of those companies arbitrarily decides to not carry an app in the store, that app can still be released via other means (alternative stores or direct distribution to users). That can’t happen on iOS, and that is where the difference lies: Apple has a monopoly on app distribution on the iOS platfrom, and there are no other legitimate options if they decide (as they have done often in the past) to not allow an app.

    5. You’re exaggerating in your speculated response. I didn’t say anything about being “positive” and I acknowledged above that it was speculation (on both our parts) as to why there is no Amazon Cloud Player for iOS.

    However, I feel that I also made a legitimate point that I can’t think of any reason why it wouldn’t be there that doesn’t have something to do with Apple’s restrictive policies, as I outlined above. Aside from those limitations / restrictions, they would surely want to have it there to make money by selling their music on that platform. Can you think of a legitimate reason that there wouldn’t be an iTunes version of Amazon’s Cloud Player, where that reason doesn’t have anything to do with Apple’s control issues (including pricing rules)?

    6. Oddly enough, your hypothetical example (if I understand it correctly – you’re talking about the potential for an iTunes client app on Android, right?) actually further proves the point of this post. *IF* Apple did want to write and distribute a client app for Android, they *could* do it, and they wouldn’t have to ask permission from Amazon or Google. If Google & Amazon both decided to not carry it in their markets for some reason, Apple could still release it. Not to sound like a broken record, but the point of this post is that the inverse is not true: the same thing couldn’t happen on iOS because Amazon *does* need Apple to allow them to publish any app.

  11. jared says:

    PS – I am actually interested in other people’s opinions on this too; so hopefully the discussion between Dan and I doesn’t put anyone else off from commenting.

    Please feel free to let me know if you disagree with my points and why. I am certainly open to considering other points of view and even changing my mind; I just haven’t heard anything convincing yet in that regard.

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