What if Amazon released Android Kindle tablet?

If you're not asking the question, you should. It makes sense out of Amazon imminently launching an app store to rival Google's Android Marketplace. Why else does Amazon need its own Android app store? Well, there's an answer to that question, too. Read on.

Firstly, in the short term, any Android-based Kindle isn't about Amazon competing with iPad or other Apple iOS devices. Amazon's ambitions are much larger: Capitalizing on the enormous Android ecosystem of applications and devices and extending its core competency as a retailer. Amazon already does this on Android and other mobile operating systems with the Kindle app. But Amazon sells more digital content than just ebooks. Android Kindle -- as device or app -- would allow Amazon to better bundle other digitally downloaded products, like movies, music and TV shows.

But that's not enough. Amazon should offer third-party products. It's hugely sensible for Amazon to do this. The company is after all a retailer, and retailers typically sell stuff produced by others. Android applications are just another retail commodity, like books, CDs, DVDs, espresso makers, jewelry etc. Amazon also already provides a clearinghouse for third-parties to sell their physical goods through its storefront. Both retail approaches resonate with what Amazon already does well.

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Amazon also gets bigger brand bang by offering more, and that means a place where people can buy applications for their devices, too -- from a trusted vendor. Amazon's name makes the Android app store and apps there more credible, and the retailer can assure customers that Android apps are high quality and safe to use. By comparison, Google's Android Market is something like the Wild West. On March 1st, Google removed nearly 60 malware-infested applications from the Market -- later also wiping them from infected devices using a kill switch.

Writing for Betanews last week, Larry Seltzer warned that Android Market "preventative measures are so weak. In some contrast to Apple, Google made it as cheap and easy as possible to write apps and get them into the Android marketplace...Apple requires that apps be digitally signed with a real code signing certificate that it issues. Google essentially requires that you use what is called a 'self-signed' certificate. Such a certificate cannot be tracked to any identity, although it does give Google a unique key to use the kill switch." Surely Amazon has reasons to do better, starting with providing services directly to customers and protecting its brand integrity.

But an Amazon Android store by itself isn't enough. The retailer needs a device, too -- again, in the short term, it has little do with iPad and other iOS devices. Amazon commanded 48 percent e-reader market share during fourth-quarter 2010, as measured in shipments, according to IDC. Barnes & Noble ranked second. Amazon's biggest rival does offer an Android device -- NOOKcolor. Amazon's first motivation is, again, about extending its e-reader reach into other digital content areas. That's good retailing. But Amazon also needs to worry about immediate competition in the e-reader market from competitors like Barnes & Nobile and the opportunities Android devices, including hot tablets like Motorola XOOM, will present.

Rumors started percolating late last week about Amazon launching its Android app store as early as March 22nd. Perhaps it's no coincidence that CTIA Wireless officially opens the same day.

Long term, Amazon is targeting Apple, too, but as retail competitor. Apple's business is about selling software and hardware. Applications are a means of making its products more valuable to potential customers and for extending the broader mobile OS platform. Amazon is a retailer looking to sell anything and everything. But the businesses collide around selling digital content. Amazon and Apple want a chunk of the same market.

Will Amazon launch an Android Kindle reader this week? I have no intelligence on that. But launching an app store concurrently or even in preparation for Android Kindle makes sense -- and during CTIA Wireless.

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