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Monday, November 14, 2011

Kindle Fire success is Google Android failure

Before even hitting the market, Amazon's Kindle Fire has captured the hearts of tech enthusiasts and the minds of software developers in a way that no Android tablet before it could. We were pretty sure this was the case, but a newly minted study confirms it.

The latest installment in a quarterly survey of developers conducted by Appcelerator and IDC has just been released. It shows that the Kindle Fire has shoved aside all other Android tablets in North America as the Android device developers most want to create apps for, and it's gaining ground in Europe and Asia as well. The catch is, to develop for the Kindle Fire, apps need to be submitted to Amazon, not to Google, so if this trajectory continues, Google will lose control of its own mobile OS, at least as far as tablets are concerned.

Of course, price is what everyone cares most about. It is always cited as the main way Android devices can compete against the industry-leading Apple ones. As such, the Kindle Fire's $199 price is still the Number One reason developers say it matters. But the Fire's secondary allures — Amazon's huge content library and its growing app store — are what will keep it out in front.

Bear in mind, Amazon and Barnes & Noble use Android as the basis for their media tablets, but they don't ask for Google's seal of approval. Because of this, they waive the right to install Google's mobile apps and Android Market portal on their devices. So far, this choice does not appear to hurt the dissidents.

(It's worth noting that while the Kindle Fire is the clear winner of mindshare here, the Nook tablets do appear on the developer short list for North America, where B&N has the most reach; they are not as much of a draw outside of the U.S.)

What's a tablet for?
Amazon and Barnes & Noble understand what the Google-backed Android tablet makers seems unable to grasp, that content and services — what you do with the thing — needs to be part of the sell. A phone is a phone, you have to have one, so why not have one that does email and Web and all that? But a tablet? Who needs them? Like Apple, Amazon and Barnes & Noble actually have an answer to that question.

For $199, it's hard to find anything we didn't like about the Amazon Kindle Fire.'s Wilson Rothman explains how it works.

The fact that they're Android devices is almost buried in their stories. "They're keeping laser focused on the most important priority: appealing to their base," Appcelerator marketing VP Scott Schwarzhoff told me. "And their base could care less about Android."

Amazon is likely to soon join Apple out in front, in part because owning the commerce system is increasingly key to accumulating power. "It's the commerce identity systems that are competing against each other," Schwarzhoff said. And when it comes to regularly handling online transactions for tens or hundreds of millions of customers, Apple and Amazon are well ahead of any other hardware competitors.

(It's also about trust, something Google — and Facebook — would also have a harder time with, but that isn't part of the survey, and is a discussion for another time.)

Developers do have concerns about the Kindle Fire. There's no camera or GPS or other high-end tablet perks, and Amazon's app store is a little trickier to deal with than Google's. But the biggest fear is that the Kindle Fire's success will destabilize the Android camp even more. This is a valid fear. My guess is that soon Amazon will have its own camp. And its tents will be way nicer.

Good news for Windows Phone
The Appcelerator survey backed up another bit of mobile industry conventional wisdom: Windows Phone is indeed pulling ahead of BlackBerry and the other lower tier operating systems. Thirty eight percent of developers said they were "very interested" in working on the platform.

Appcelerator / IDC

( is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

As such, this is good news for Nokia, whose previous smartphone platforms were met with disdain by developers. Windows Phone on Nokia means more interest in apps for Nokia devices, says the survey. But Nokia helps Microsoft too. That partnership, as well as an improved Windows Phone experience and the coming of a mobile-friendly Windows 8, are cited as reasons for the heightened interest.

What developers are clearly NOT interested in is BlackBerry. Both the BlackBerry OS and the PlayBook platform saw dips, down to 21 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Even though Windows Phone has low single-digit market share, it manages to seem more of a safe bet than the massive but aging population of BlackBerry devices.


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