In An Apple-Dominated World, Amazon's Rumored Android Tablet Faces Hurdles

Kindle Android

New data suggests that in Europe, iOS is twice as big a market as Android, and the news comes as rumors resurface about Amazon's Android tablet hopes. It would seem the bookselling giant has an uphill struggle ahead.

ComScore's new report covers online mobile platforms in Europe, and the company notes it is its "first publicly available data" showing demographics and other data. There are many figures in the report: For example, Apple's iOS platform reaches 28.9 million users in the five biggest European markets (the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, and Italy), and while mobile-phone users are approximately split 50/50 between men and women, smartphone ownership is skewed 58.8% toward men, while 62.4% of iPads are owned by men. The demographic that owns the most iPads is also the 25-34 years old bracket, and 6% of iPad owners owned Android phones (although in general iPad ownership extends well beyond Apple loyalists, and many iPad owners also own Nokia phones).

But the takeaway statistic is that iOS on iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches, Apple's 28.9 million users (about 12% of all mobile subscribers in Europe), beat Android's share by 116%. In other words, in the key European markets, iOS's market share is more than double Android's—a starkly surprising figure given all the headlines about Android beating Apple. A similar statistic for the U.S. suggests Apple's reach is 59% more than Android's—not quite as surprising, but still impressive.

We know that Apple has had issues shipping iPad 2s as fast as it would like, and that the number of iPhones and iPod touches sold far outweighs the iPads that have been bought, but we also know Apple is ramping up production of the iPad 2 and expects to double its shipments in the third quarter of this year. In other words, the tablet and smartphone market (particularly in Europe) is an Apple affair.

Which casts an interesting light on rumors that Amazon is planning its own Android-powered tablet, timed to hit the shelves sometime later in 2011. We think Amazon's at work on the project, partly because we've heard nothing about the company's e-reader plans since the global Kindle—merely a tweak to its original e-ink-powered design. We assume in this interval Amazon's been working on something. We also hear that Samsung may be the hardware provider for Amazon, which also makes sense because Samsung has enough expertise in crafting tablets to rival Apple's that Apple is suing it. Amazon's own curated Android Appstore is an effort to create the Apple-equivalent "safe" and "quality" app store for Google's platform, and could be seen as another hint Amazon has an Android unit on the way.

But would Amazon try to directly rival the iPad? This is a thorny question. By relying on future income from e-books sold to Amazon tablet users, pushed by an Amazon-centric UI on top of boilerplate Android OS, Amazon could sell its device at a lower price point than typical Android tablets and potentially beat the iPad's pricing too. But we also think Google is being protective about its tablet version of Android, Honeycomb, and isn't allowing the kind of UI overlay that Amazon may rely on to push its e-books. This could challenge Amazon's plans (because with a full-featured tablet PC in your hands, you're not going to spend all your time reading—it's a different use-case model to a dedicated e-reader). Amazon may have to run with an older 2.x version of Android, which would be a limiting feature in attracting some potential buyers. On the other hand, Amazon could spin the device carefully—pitching it as mainly an e-reader with some enhanced extra features, possibly available through own-brand apps—and thus position it as a natural successor to the Kindle, rather than a full-featured tablet.

Given that Apple owns the smartphone game, and the tablet game, this may be a smart move for Amazon. The bookseller already has apps that run on both the iPad and iPhone anyway, and these generate income for the company with very little effort on its behalf...meaning how successful its Android Kindle would be is almost irrelevant. Either way, we suspect we won't have many months to wait to find out what happens.

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[Image via Flickr user pen waggener]

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