They say it's the sincerest form of flattery.
Who wouldn't want to be Apple right now? The iPad 2 has the world of consumer electronics completely enthralled. Every quarter is more record-breaking than the last. The Apple brand is advancing on almost every front, and their momentum shows no signs of dying. It isn't surprising that other tech companies would try to emulate them. What may surprise you is how far two of Apple's biggest rivals, Amazon and Google, will be willing to go in order to remake themselves in Cupertino's image.
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While they aren't as obviously antagonistic as Google, Amazon has just as sore a history with the electronics giant. iTunes represents a direct and massive threat to Amazon's video and MP3 business. Apple's iBook app, and the iPad itself, are a danger to the Kindle. And those recent in-app billing requirements is expected to hit Amazon hard in the pocketbook.
Apple wants to kill all the middlemen- because they want to be the middleman. The only way for Amazon to fight against being edged out is to push back against Apple in all directions. Which they are doing.
Striking from Opposite Directions.
Amazon and Google are both very different businesses, but they are both in the process of "Apple-ifying" their corporate identities. For Google, this means turning away from open source and towards the heavy-handed approach to platform control we see with iOS. While Google is miles more liberal than Apple in this area, Andy Rubin has been making moves towards consolidating and rebuilding central power over Android.
The goal here is to halt fragmentation- primarily because of the difficulty it creates for Android developers. The App Market is the closest thing to an App Store rival the world has. But the confusing Android landscape (and issues monetizing the Android user base) have held it back from budding into true competition. To correct the latter issue, Google instituted in-app billing. To correct the former, they're taking a harder line with their partners.
Android needs to be lean and mean to compete with iOS in all the ways Google wants it to. The little green robot is far behind in the tablet race- despite Google racing Honeycomb to completion while it was still half-baked.
While Google and its partners hurl hardware and desert-themed updates at the Great Wall of Apple, Amazon is coming after them in services. Check out the updated Amazon homepage. Instant videos, MP3's and their new Cloud Player are at the top of the screen. Amazon's actual products? The wild assortment of books and gadgets and tools and toys that built them into the mightiest of online retailers? They're at the bottom.
The Enemy of my Enemy...
At this stage of the game, Google and Amazon seem to both be settling for an uneasy peace. Both companies are still quite reliant upon the other. Android needs the wide selection of content that Amazon can provide. And Amazon knows that, with the recent App Store changes, there's no better distribution channel than Android. There's a reason Amazon's iTunes "killing" Cloud Player service launched with an Android app.
And there's a reason Google hasn't made a big fuss about Amazon's App Store. For the moment, Gaining an edge on Apple anywhere is more important. If the Cloud Player grows to really rival iTunes, you can bet Google will push it hard in every ad and support the hell out of it with future updates.
Bad Moon Rising.
Google and Apple were pretty cordial, once upon a time. They had incestuous Boards and collaborated closely on the early iPhone. But then Google invaded Apple's personal space with Android and everything went to hell. We'll see the relationship between Amazon and Google collapse in a similar way. Friendships don't last in the tech industry.
And Amazon appears to be working on a tablet. Considering the Kindle uses proprietary software, this new tablet seems unlikely to run Android. Amazon controls something like half of the e-reader market. They may think a solid enough product launch would have good odds of capturing a healthy slice of tablet market share.
Any sort of collusion with Google seems unlikely in the wake of an Amazon tablet. But Google doesn't always act as you'd expect. We'll see how closely they want to follow in Apple's footsteps in the wake of that (far-off?) announcement.