Pick a Cloud: Apple or Amazon? (Video)
If it works as advertised, the Kindle Fire will give the iPad its first serious competition. Which means consumers are going to have to make a choice: Do they want Amazon’s cloud, or Apple’s?
Because both companies are now offering something very similar, but not very compatible: Lightweight media consumption devices*, where the consumers will be expected to store the bulk of their media on someone else’s server.
Apple is moving quickly toward this model, with its new iTunes in the Cloud service, which will let you access music, TV shows and eventually movies you’ve purchased on any Apple machine with a Web connection. And the Kindle Fire will be there from the get-go — the device will only offer eight gigs of storage, which means it will just about require users to pull stuff down from the cloud.**
It will probably be possible, depending on DRM restrictions, to store media on multiple clouds. But clearly both companies are trying to create an environment that effectively locks you into their players, their devices, and their storage systems. Once you’ve moved, say, your music collection to Apple’s cloud, or Amazon’s, will you want to keep updating two content libraries?
So what about the Web? Won’t that let users skate around the lock-in?
In theory, both the iPad and the Fire will let users watch, read, or listen to whatever they want, via their browsers (and unlike the iPad, the Fire will support Adobe’s Flash). But both machines are geared toward apps and discrete chunks of media that you’ve bought at their stores.
I went back and forth on this with several of the Amazon executives at the Fire launch event today — yes, it’s possible to import media and apps that you bought somewhere else, like a rival Android app store, they said. But they don’t think most people will behave that way. And while you could theoretically watch Netflix streaming movies via the browser, the company thinks you’re going to end up using an Amazon-approved Netflix app instead.
Here’s a representative conversation I had with Kindle content boss Russ Grandinetti. (Note to media companies like Time Warner — see his answer about retail pricing.)
*Some of you will make the argument that the iPad is a work device, too. That’s fine, but my gut — and some polling — suggests that most people are using their iPads to watch, listen and play. Meanwhile, Amazon barely pretends that the Fire will be used for any other purpose.
** Google wants to go this way too, but while the Kindle Fire is built on Android, make no mistake, this is Amazon’s platform. If Google wants to get consumers storing media on its clouds, its going to have to come up with a credible tablet of its own.