In a sense, Amazon.com (NSDQ: AMZN) can already be called a mobile company. It sells books through the Kindle, lets BlackBerry users send in photos of products in stores to find similar items on Amazon, and sells music over the airwaves. But there are signs that the giant online retailer’s interest in smartphones is growing.
BusinessWeek makes that case, by threading together some of the company’s recent moves. In the last few months, Amazon has been hiring more mobile engineers; has acquired a number of companies that could beef up its cell phone expertise; and has started selling content on the Kindle, which is obviously a mobile device. Amazon declined to comment about future plans, but the argument for why Amazon should increase its efforts in mobile is a simple one: Today, people buy mobile applications from carriers and from handset makers, but eventually, consumers may be able to buy applications from a number of companies — why not make at least the 300,000 e-book titles more widely available to more mobile devices?
On June 18, Amazon bought SnapTell, which let’s you take a picture of a product and then compare prices with Amazon’s. SnapTell also has expertise creating software for Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system. In April, Amazon bought Lexcycle, whose software turns the iPhone into an e-book reader.
As far as hiring, Amazon has 17 open positions on its Web site that relate to mobile, ranging from software engineers to a senior product manager for mobile payments and a director of mobile applications. One ad says the position will “develop partnerships with mobile companies.” Of course, Amazon has already launched an MP3 download application on both the T-Mobile G1 and the Palm (NSDQ: PALM) Pre. In the next couple of months, users will be able to download songs over the T-Mobile cellular network at no additional cost.
To be sure, Amazon has been increasing its mobile expertise for years. Slightly more than three years ago, Amazon hired Sam Hall away from AT&T (NYSE: T) Wireless, where he was in charge of the company’s data strategy, including the old mMode platform. He is now listed as director of Worldwide Wireless Products and Services at Amazon.com. But with the introduction and early success of the Kindle, there’s signs of increasing interest.