We’ve been pondering how Amazon could turn the next Kindle into a great machine, but the company has just gone and done something that’s probably much more important: It’s released a Kindle e-reader app for RIM’s BlackBerrys.
Amazon’s had e-reader apps for Windows smartphones, as well as the iPhone and iPod Touch, for ages–they’re very popular too. And they’re fully integrated into the Kindle ecosystem, even remembering which page you’re reading and then syncing it back to an actual Kindle e-reader, assuming you have one. Releasing these apps made perfect sense for Amazon, since it lets the company broaden its Kindle subscriber base for little or no effort, and small ongoing costs–and it broadens the global reach of its e-book store.
But while Apple‘s iconic smartphone has redefined the genre, RIM’s more pedestrian BlackBerry’s still rule the roost. At the end of last year BlackBerrys still had something like 50% of the smartphone market, compared to the iPhone’s 30%–even though consumer satisfaction with RIM’s products may be waning as they fall more and more behind the cutting edge of technology. Those figures will change, of course, assuming the iPhone’s ascendancy continues and BlackBerry’s continues to slip… but the crackberry is still king of smartphone land for the time being, and will remain so for quite some time.
And that’s precisely why Amazon’s BlackBerry Kindle app may well be a bigger deal than any upcoming Kindle 3. An improved Kindle device would help win even more consumer mind share in the coming e-book wars, but Amazon is more of a software provider than a hardware seller at heart. And there are rumors that the e-merchandising giant may even give Kindles away to tempt people toward its services over the upcoming Apple iBooks-iPad threat. This is a radically different model to the one being followed by e-books upstart Apple, which is essentially a hardware-profitable business, with some extra revenue from content sales bolted on the top. This is precisely why Apple’s happier to give more leeway to the e-book publishers themselves, since it doesn’t need to force this part of the business to make a profit. Having said that, Apple’s maneuver here may also have paid off from a consumer point of view–it looks like the new agency model may not result in overly-elevated e-book prices for the iPad.
Hence Amazon’s welcoming more users to the Kindle fold via BlackBerry at this point, before the iPad hits, is an ideal maneuver. Especially as the business types who still tend to dominate the BlackBerry userbase may well have higher disposable incomes, and more free time commuting to enjoy the benefits of an e-reader app on their addictive little pocket smartphone. But Amazon needs to pull off more tricks like this if it’s to retain a significant chunk of the e-book market once Apple rolls in there.
Read more: Amazon Taps Its Inner Apple [July 2009]