Amazon would face huge challenges in the smartphone business

The Wall Street Journal reported this afternoon that Amazon is planning to announce its first smartphone in June and is targeting a September launch. The device will be capable of displaying 3D content, according to the Journal, and will presumably be supported by Amazon’s Appstore for Android that delivers content to the online retailer’s line of Kindle Fire tablets.
It’s unclear whether Amazon hopes to sell the device directly to carriers or to adopt an MVNO model. Regardless, an Amazon smartphone could be a savvy way for the company to strengthen its brand and increase momentum as a distributor of Android apps. (The company said this week that its store now boasts more than 200,000 titles, doubling its library just since August.) And it would be a great way to expand its mobile advertising business.
The looming question is whether Amazon is ready to replace Google’s proprietary cloud-based services, which are withheld from manufacturers who build devices with forked versions of Android. Amazon has been able to back-fill Google’s services with its own APIs for tablets — which are used entirely as station-to-station, Wi-Fi-only devices used primarily to connect to its app store — but an Amazon smartphone would have to offer a much broader set of mobile services to compete with, say, Samsung’s flagship Galaxy line. I’ve argued that Nokia and Microsoft can successfully fork Android because they have a tremendous amount of expertise as providers of their own mobile operating systems. Amazon’s lack of experience in that area will be a tremendous challenge if it really does launch a smartphone running a forked version of Android.