Amazon apparently plans to unleash a series of mobile devices later this year. The ecommerce giant has five or six new tablets and a smartphone in the works, including a 10-inch Kindle Fire-style tablet, according to reports. This news suggests that Amazon is taking a page from several different playbooks. The company already has modeled its ebook master plan on Apple's content and app strategy, but a wave of new devices would represent an approach closer to Samsung’s.
Parallels With Apple
If there is one thing that Amazon does well from a consumer perspective, it is offering a variety of cheap choices. For instance, it sells six models of Kindle (five straight ereaders and the Kindle Fire tablet). Their prices range from $79 to $379, with the Fire coming in at $199, a price that has made that device very popular.
Historically, the variety of Kindles has bolstered Amazon’s core business: selling books. The Fire extended that strategy to music, videos, magazines, apps, and personal cloud storage. The etailer's move from books to other forms of media was natural. It was similar to the strategy undertaken by Apple, which expanded from selling music to videos, apps, and TV shows.
But there are differences. Apple’s content initiatives exist to sell iPods, iPhones, and iPads. Amazon's devices exist to sell content.
Amazon has few serious challengers to the Kindle in the ereader arena. The Barnes and Noble Nook has carved out a niche for itself. Kobo has tried to find a market but found it difficult. Apple and Google both host ereading software in their app stores, but outside of the iPad and Android tablets, they don't offer devices that are specifically ereaders. Amazon was smart to enter the tablet space when it did, but it found that it needed a broader approach to compete with Apple and Google.
Taking a Page From Samsung?
Samsung is the leading smartphone manufacturer in the world. It has achieved this status by permeating the mobile market like the Higgs field fills the universe - a shotgun approach the polar opposite of Apple’s one-device-a-year release schedule.
For a picture of how many Galaxy devices Samsung has released in recent years, check out our History of the Galaxy.
Samsung’s approach is to devise a product for every market niche. It has high-end Android devices (the Galaxy S II/III), middle-tier devices and low-end products. It spreads them around every mobile carrier in the United States and seeds them in emerging markets, where they have been stealing market share from incumbents like Nokia and Motorola. No matter where you live or what your price range is, Samsung has a Galaxy for you. Ubiquity is Samsung’s greatest strength (and one of its weaknesses).
Amazon has taken a similar approach with its Kindles: Hit consumers with a variety of price points to get them in the door. Will Amazon now introduce a variety of tablets to overwhelm the mass of other Android slates and Apple’s iPad?
The tablet market is much more fickle than the smartphone market. Apart from the iPad, there have been fewer success stories in the larger mobile form factor. Amazon hit on one of those successes with the 7-inch Kindle Fire, but after an initial surge in sales, the Fire dropped off as higher quality devices appeared, such as the third-generation iPad and Google Nexus 7. Amazon has a chance to reclaim some of its glory and it looks as though it is arming itself with a Galaxy-like array of devices.
Amazon must be careful, though. Samsung tried to replicate its shotgun smartphone approach with tablets in varying form factors and prices, but the Galaxy Tab series has not seen nearly the success of the company's smartphones. Sometimes more is simply more, not necessarily better.
What might Amazon's upcoming device lineup look like? Well, a revamped 7-inch Kindle Fire likely is in the works along with the rumored 10-inch tablet. An updated Kindle would make sense as well. When and how Amazon will enter the smartphone market is a question that most analysts are not prepared to answer, as the logistics behind such a move are complex. What will be important for Amazon is to maintain its emphasis on inexpensive products. In that way, consumers will win as Amazon tightens the screws. Think of it this way: Would Google have priced the Nexus 7 at $199 if Amazon had not established a 7-inch tablet price with the Fire? Amazon may not make the highest-quality devices, but it has clout and consumers trust it. That gives Amazon the opportunity to not only offer a wide selection of tablets but also force its competitors to react.