amazon-phone

Amazon today announced that its software marketplace, which comes pre-installed on Kindle tablets and can be installed on other Android devices, has over 240,000 applications available in more than 200 countries. That’s a pittance compared to the App Store but it’s impressive for Amazon, which says that its Appstore is three times larger than it was just one year ago.

It’s no coincidence that Amazon announced this growth just two days before it’s expected to release a smartphone. It’s also no coincidence that the company’s subscription music service launched last week or that it’s reminding Amazon Prime customers about its video streaming service, either. The company is making the case for its smartphone before the device is even revealed.

Amazon is a marketplace first and foremost, and its digital stores have already spread to other platforms. Consumers can read books with the “Kindle for iPhone” application, download games from the Amazon Appstore, watch films with the “Amazon Video for Android” application, and shop through the company’s default marketplace from almost any device with a Web browser.

But the company has shown a preference for making these marketplaces accessible through products it can control. That’s why it still makes Kindle e-readers, Kindle Fire tablets, and the Amazon FireTV set-top box. Although the company seemed more than willing to profit from being on every platform instead of introducing its own, it has grown fond of making hardware.

The problem is explaining to consumers why they should purchase the Fire Phone or whatever it’s going to be called instead of the latest iPhone or Android smartphone. Amazon’s software strategy and its hardware strategy are at direct odds with each other. It needs a way to bring them together, and making this device the best Amazon content viewer available might work.

In order to create that device, Amazon needs to offer everything that other companies offer, so it needed some kind of music service. Check. It needed a video service. Check. It needed to offer a dedicated software marketplace, especially one that appeals to developers. Check. It also needed to create something that differentiated the hardware, and if the reports about a 3D interface are to be believed, that item can be checked as well. Check, check, check.

At this point it would be strange if Amazon didn’t announce a smartphone on Wednesday, considering it has a music service prepared and that people know that its software marketplace isn’t an afterthought. Essentially, the company has spent the last several weeks convincing customers why they need a device that hasn’t even been announced yet. After all, every fire needs some kindling.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]