Whether or not Steve Jobs’ passing means the end of Apple is a question only time can answer. The near-term stakes are very high for all four of the big tech companies—the other three being Google, Facebook, and Amazon. As Farhad Manjoo has chronicled, each is seeking to establish itself as the dominant innovator.
We’re taking a bet on Amazon, thanks in part to its new line of tablet devices, its massive collection of content, its thriving retail business, and its early investments in technologies like cloud computing and payment services.
Amazon Web Services is a big deal; after all, it's one of the best-distributed web services around. The infrastructure behind sites like Netflix and Reddit is built by Amazon, and if you’re starting a new tech company, more likely than not you’ll be doing it on Amazon's platform. It may be a surprise to see cloud computing offered by what was once a mere online bookstore.
That transition is captured quite nicely in this rant written by Google developer Steve Yegge, who observed how Amazon had outpaced the search giant after founder Jeff Bezos’s came to the conclusion that “a product is useless without a platform, or more precisely and accurately, a platform-less product will always be replaced by an equivalent platform-ized product.”
What that means is that Kindle technology that provides a great tablet experience is important, but being able to offer it as a platform for all of Amazon’s vast content library is more important. The newest Kindle tablets are being sold at a loss to beat the iPad on price—something that can only be done if you can profit off the ensuing sales of books, music and movies.
Amazon Prime, the company’s $79 a year subscription service that provides 2-day shipping and exclusive access to movies and music, is premised on a similar strategy of investing in customers to reap rewards later. When users join up, they double year-to-year spending, going from an average of $400 a year to $900.
And for those wondering whether Bezos has the kind of guts and vision to compete with the Mark Zuckerbergs and Larry Pages of the world, keep in mind that when he kicked off Amazon Web Services in 2006, it was met with headlines like “Amazon’s Risky Bet" thanks to the cringes of short-term investors who lacked Bezos' long view of e-commerce.
Today, relatively new Google CEO Larry Page is reorienting the company and raising questions about his company's direction with the ambiguous debut of Google+ and poorly received facelifts to key products. Facebook is scrambling to build a phone. Apple is executing on Jobs' vision but faces questions about its future. In the new internet economy of cloud computing and content distribution, only Amazon is moving with confidence. It has winning products in multiple key sectors and a visionary founder poised to iterate on success.