Amazon, who many of us consider to be nothing more than an online retailer, started making hardware in 2007 when they released the Kindle. The Kindle, in case you’ve been living under a rock, is a small device with an electronic ink display that lets you read books. Subsequent models were introduced that were cheaper and lighter, but in 2011 Amazon stepped up their game and introduced a full blown tablet called the Fire. It’s powered by Android, but you’d be hard pressed to tell. Amazon customized Android to such an extent that it’s pretty much impossible to notice that the underlying software was built by Google. Because Amazon created a Frankenstein version of Android, they weren’t given access to Google’s signature Android apps, namely Maps, Gmail, and the Google Play Store.
To get around this Amazon made their own App Store; that launched in March 2011. And replacing Gmail wasn’t that hard either since there are a ton of third party Android email clients. But what about Maps? Enter today’s announcement that Amazon purchased a 3D mapping company called UpNext. They make an iOS and Android app that’s pretty much a knock off of Google Maps.
Why did Amazon buy UpNext? We can only speculate, but we think it’s because Amazon wants to enter the smartphone space. Think about it for a second. They have a hugely successful online business, which they’ll likely use to subsidize the cost of their hardware. Do you honestly believe that Amazon makes any money off the Kindle Fire? No, they don’t. Imagine now if they released a smartphone that has similar hardware specifications to the Galaxy Nexus, along with the same $349 price tag. Said phone would be promoted on Amazon’s website, and Amazon could even sell it to you with a contract so as to hide the full cost of the product.
If the Kindle Phone is real, we’ll likely see it in 2013.