If Apple is all about the devices, Amazon is all about the services

“Here endeth the lesson.” —Jim Malone, “The Untouchables”

There is a great moment in the movie “The Untouchables,” when street-smart cop Jim Malone (played by Sean Connery) explains to federal agent Elliot Ness (played by Kevin Costner) the laws of the urban jungle that was 1920s Chicago, culminating his sermon by saying, “Here endeth the lesson.”

In his own way, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos delivered a similar message today about the laws of the post-PC jungle when he unveiled the next generation of all things Kindle. In doing so, he accomplished two things.

One, he firmly anchored the precept that other than Apple, Amazon is the elephant in the room when it comes to tablet and media devices, aka the post-PC universe.

After all, there is no company out there (other than Apple) that can so seamlessly combine ecommerce, digital media, publishing, cloud computing and hardware know-how — and do so at wafer-thin margins.

It begs the question: If you are Google, once you get beyond the disciples, how do you compete in this domain? If you are Samsung, and have no software story, then what IS your story now? HP, Microsoft, Dell, Asus, et al, time to calibrate what game you are in — because if we know one thing about Amazon, it’s that they play the long game. What’s your long game?

Moreover, if it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear now — the game is no longer about technical specifications or hardware-only stories. It’s about the rise of integrated hardware-software platforms (see my previous post “HP, Dell and the paradox of the disrupted”) and a relentless focus on the customer through continual refinement of said platforms.

This is the Apple model, and Amazon today not only chimed in with their support of that approach, but effectively doubled-down.

That gets to the second thing Bezos accomplished today. With surgical precision, he communicated the truth that a brand is a promise about values and how those values manifest in a company’s products.

Specifically, Bezos began the event by talking about how customers are smart. They didn’t buy the many Android tablets that proliferated over the last year because they “want mere gadgets.” Rather, they want services that get better over time.

By talking about Kindle Fire as a service first, and then focusing on the “so what” aspects of the hardware and software (which he did plenty), Bezos’ message was that Amazon’s core business is “service.” And it has oriented itself to make money only when customers actually use its services versus merely buying their devices. They’re not interested in a one-time transaction.

This concept was firmly rooted by Bezos when he asserted the Amazon doctrine, “Above all else, align with customers. Win when they win. Win only when they win.”

So there you have it. If, as Apple CEO Tim Cook said, Apple’s mission is “to maniacally focus on making the world’s best products … that’s why we breathe, that’s why we live,” Amazon’s is all about services that create a win for customers.

And this is what I love about Amazon. Whereas Google’s credo seems tilted towards emulating the best practices of others so as to relegate them to a commodity, Amazon really seems to want to learn from the best, and then integrate those lessons into what they do well. No simple copying and pasting of good ideas for them, ala Samsung.

To me, this raises two questions. One, if Amazon, Apple and Google are simply the best of the best in the post-PC universe, and Amazon and Apple are guided by deep integration and clear focal points, at what point does Google capitulate and go all-in with a similar strategy? After all, the writing is on the wall with Nexus 7, but every time Andy Rubin touts his “Android’s winning” numbers, I am not sure if the company is clear itself.

Two, with the 8.9” Kindle Fire HD priced at $299 and the Kindle Fire HD with 4G LTE wireless at $499, Amazon is seriously testing Apple’s assertion that it would not leave pricing overhang for the competition to outflank them, as happened during the PC era. So, will Apple blink?

Either way, it’s game on.

Mark Sigal is an eight-time entrepreneur, whose ventures have sold to Apple, IBM and Intel. He is chief product officer at Unicorn Labs, an eBooks and eLearning platform provider.

Image courtesy of Flickr user matthewvenn.