Why Amazon Can Win in Mobile, While Microsoft Sputters

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And something called Nokia Music, which doesn’t seem revolutionary when compared to apps like Spotify or Pandora. But that’s about it.

The Amazon devices—even the simpler Kindle e-reader—are designed as doorways to a bunch of valuable digital services, including books, movies, games, and cheap shopping. The hardware, while pretty impressive sounding, is just a storefront. This is a fundamentally different way of looking at the world—and it’s on the mark.

People who are fans of Amazon use it because it takes the hassle out of repetitive shopping, eliminates wasteful trips to stores, saves money, and makes it much simpler to read books, watch movies, and more. That’s a compelling digital experience that touches your life in many ways. As entrepreneur and blogger Charlie Kindel writes, “Wanna compete with Apple? Focus on experiences.”

This is similar to the digital media hub strategy that made Apple so successful. Yes, the iPhone was and remains an amazing piece of hardware. But, for all of Apple’s weaknesses in producing good software, its digital music, movie, and Web browsing services worked well enough to make a compelling package. Plus, it had enough market share to attract the best independent app developers, who filled in the gaps in Apple’s own offerings.

Android doesn’t have that central, connected identity. But it got into the No. 2 spot because of huge user numbers, helped by the device manufacturers and carriers who were scared to death of the way Apple smashed their business models. Those huge user numbers attracted developers, who filled in the holes enough to make a viable competitor.

There’s no comparable home-base experience on the Microsoft/Nokia side of the ledger, and no massive distribution network of eager partners evident either.

Microsoft does have great work software, but it’s widely available and also has some reasonable competitors. That means they have to rely on developers to fill the app market with services that people will like and use, especially since there could be hundreds of millions of devices tied to the overall Windows 8 ecosystem, as Steve Ballmer boasted this week.

But even if that works, it will mean that Nokia and Microsoft have an ecosystem that is hollow in the middle. And Bezos is right—people just don’t want fancy gadgets. The broad mass of consumers probably never did. They want a ton of useful things, from a brand they trust, that come baked into one package, with one identity.

That’s the vision Steve Jobs had way back at the beginning of Apple, and it’s the model that won. Most people are not looking for a bunch of bits of technology that they have to assemble into a platform like a bunch of Legos—they want it to just work together.

Any company that tries to make a dent in consumer electronics had better get with the program.

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