The conventional wisdom is that Google will be or is the big challenger to Apple in the mobile computing market, but it turns out that we've been digging in the wrong place all this time. The way I see it, the real competition is going to come from Amazon.
Recent announcements from Amazon make me more certain than ever that they will shortly be launching a Kindle-branded phone and tablet based on Android.
First there was the Amazon Appstore for Android, integrated with Amazon's peerless checkout system (peerless because everyone has an account, not because it's particularly lovely to use). This store, unlike the Android Market, has an Apple-style approval process and is therefore going to be free of malware, copyright infringers and, presumably, porn. All that really matters is that it's an Android store that isn't run like the Wild West.
Then there was Amazon CloudDrive – a way to store all of your media in the cloud and then access it from your Android device. There's no need to sync anything with a computer – just stream and go.
Then, think about the infrastructure that Amazon already has in place. They have millions of credit cards on file. They have an MP3 store that's full of DRM-free music at reasonable prices. They have on-demand movie streaming with titles that people might actually be interested in. They have a ratings and recommendations system that is second to none. And, they know better than perhaps any other company in the world how to scale a service on the web.
These are not small things, and neither Apple nor Google have mastered all of them.
Crucially, in addition to all of this, with the Kindle, Amazon has learned how to make a device that works perfectly for their target market, how to hit a very aggressive pricepoint, how to explain that device to customers in a simple and compelling way, and how to deal with mobile carriers to provide data services that just work.
Finally, Amazon are ruthlessly focused on the customer, perhaps obsessively so, and know how to get people to spend money, which is not something Google seem to care if people to do on Android, such is their desire to cover every digital surface with low-grade advertising.
The only real weak spot, as with Apple and Google, is that Amazon doesn't really seem to get social. It's strange that three such admirable, modern companies struggle so much with this most modern of media, and it's always puzzled me that Amazon don't have a social dimension to recommendations – I care much more what certain of my friends think about, for example, books than I do about what any number of strangers think.
But, while the lack of social smarts is certainly a deficiency for Amazon, the fact that Apple and others haven't cracked it yet either does mean that they probably won't suffer for it. Until the Facebook phone, that is.
I don't know whether this tea leaf reading adds up to Amazon doing a Kindle phone before a Kindle tablet, or whether they'll go tablet first, but it seems to me that they would be missing a huge opportunity if they didn't do both, and soon. When they do, Apple will finally have a worthy competitor in the integrated mobile space. I can't wait.