Is Amazon working on a smartphone?
The answer could be “Yes,” at least according to scuttlebutt drifting around the Web this week. Those rumors stem from the LinkedIn profile of Charlie Kindel, formerly the general manager of Microsoft’s Windows Phone developer experience, who’s now working for Amazon on an undisclosed project. According to that profile, Kindel is “director” of “something secret” at Amazon, and intent on hiring “cloud and mobile developers and testers, program managers, and product managers.”
Of course, you can’t put something like that on the Web without lots of people conjecturing about it, as several publications—including GeekWire and the UK’s Telegraph—have done over the past few days. (Kindel himself muddied the waters with an April Fool’s Day joke on his blog, announcing that he had taken on a full-time job to build “Amazon Kindle Charlie,” a home server of some sort.)
Amazon already has a sizable presence in mobile devices, of course, thanks to its Kindle lines of e-readers and color tablets. Along with Google’s Nexus touch-screens, the Kindle tablets allowed Android—which lagged behind Apple’s iPad for quite some time—to begin seizing some serious momentum in the ongoing tablet wars. Amazon’s advantage, of course, is that its hardware is tethered to an epic digital library of e-books, apps, and recorded content.
If Amazon is building a smartphone in-house, it will almost certainly leverage its experience in developing tablets. The bigger question is, where’s the market opportunity? Customers today can opt for a cheap smartphone, or an expensive one with powerful specs; they can also download all manner of content from hubs such as Google Play or Apple’s iTunes Store. If Amazon sold a device with the high-end specs of an iPhone 5 or Galaxy S4 for dirt cheap, and threw in some free digital content, it could help drive widespread adoption; but otherwise, it’s hard to determine what sort of features would compel someone to opt for a Kindle smartphone over a similar product from Nokia, Samsung, BlackBerry or Apple.
Let’s say Amazon debuts a smartphone that sets everyone into a frenzied spasm of buying, a device so perfect that it becomes another major player alongside the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy. That’s potentially good for consumers, but it could just as easily spark a few headaches for IT administrators and other tech pros at companies around the world with a BYOB (Bring Your Own Device) policy. As with the Kindle Fire, a Kindle smartphone would require vetting various productivity apps for security, not to mention imposing all sorts of specific controls in the name of administration and security.
Of course, as long as hypotheticals are under discussion, it’s not too far a leap to assume that a Kindle smartphone, like the Kindle Fire, will feature a user interface geared primarily toward the consumption of Amazon products. There will likely be prominent tabs for downloading and viewing content such as movies and e-books; but as a business device, it might leave something to be desired. Most corporations wouldn’t opt to adopt such a thing, but they might have to deal with workers bringing them in-house.
Just to make things even more interesting, Amazon speeds up Web browsing via a platform called Silk, which performs a portion of the necessary processing on Amazon’s own servers. While Silk can be switched off, some companies most definitely would have a problem with a portion of their business data filtering through Amazon’s EC2 servers. So that would be another fun complication standing between a Kindle smartphone and the business market, which most smartphones these days need in order to be viable.