Mobile media stores: Apple vs. Amazon vs. Samsung

Over the weekend, I was catching up on some reading and came across John Gruber’s analysis of the Amazon Kindle Fire(s amzn). Gruber wrote a solid piece about the device’s capabilities, target audience and pricing strategy and it’s well worth the read. The majority of Gruber’s writing is about Apple(s aapl), and like many others, he sees the Fire not as an iPad competitor, but more as a tablet that leverages Google’s Android(s goog) platform in a way that best benefits Amazon while also having the potential to outsell other Android tablets.

One section of Gruber’s article stood out for me, however, because it’s essentially false. Yet, it’s a sentiment that many hold — including our own readers here — namely, that outside of Amazon, only Apple has a media ecosystem to offer mobile devices. Here’s the section, with emphasis added by me:

Attack from a position of strength. Build on your previous successes. That’s what Apple does. That’s what Amazon is doing here. The other guys — the Samsungs, HTCs, Motorolas, RIMs — can’t match Apple’s hardware design, don’t even try to match Apple in terms of original and differentiated software, and struggle to match Apple’s prices because they don’t have the economy of scale advantages Apple does. Those guys can’t match Amazon either, because they have no content to sell. Amazon can give away the razor because they’re already in the business of selling blades. The other guys don’t even have blades to sell.

Had Gruber only pointed to Research In Motion(s rimm) and Motorola(s mmi) in this part of his piece, it would essentially be valid (although if Google is allowed to purchase Motorola, the company has a young but growing content play).

Competitors aren’t standing still

Regardless, neither Apple nor Amazon is the only mobile ecosystem game in town. Last October, Samsung launched its Media Hub for content sales. The service provides movie and television media for rental or purchase. I pointed this service out when Samsung announced its Galaxy Player devices, which are iPod touch competitors and need a media ecosystem for sales success. HTC, too, has launched media stores this year: HTC Watch debuted with the HTC Sensation 4G handset in April, for example.

Also, my 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, purchased in December of last year, has a Music Hub powered by 7digital. Although I’ve bought much music from Amazon’s MP3 Store over the past few years, I’m now using Rdio these days for my music needs, so I don’t know what the Music Hub offers, but it does exist. Readers Hub is on my Tab too; it sells newspaper content through PressDisplay, e-books via Kobo and magazines through Zinio. Yes, these are all partnerships and not direct Samsung stores, but I’d be surprised if Samsung doesn’t get some small revenue cut.

Of course, a music or video store is only as good as its content, so I decided to dig deeper to see how the platforms compare between Apple, Amazon and Samsung. There are a number of ways to make this comparison, but to keep things simple, I simply used Apple as “the gold standard” or baseline.

Essentially, I used  iTunes to build a few lists of the most popular movies, television shows, and music albums. I then checked Amazon and Samsung to see if they could match Apple’s offerings; HTC’s services are so new that it’s missing most of what the others offer. I’m not skipping the data checks to give HTC a pass, as they surely have work to do if they want to compete.

Apple and Amazon win big

Here’s what I found, presented in a simple chart:

Obviously, as the baseline, Apple is and should be 100 percent across the board. As expected, Amazon does quite well, missing only one content item as compared to Apple (for the curious, it’s Mac Miller’s album, Blue Slide Park). Samsung suffers in several categories, but with ABC (s dis) television shows in particular, with just 2 of the top 10 titles in iTunes.

I’m not defending Samsung here, but several of the TV shows in Apple’s top 10 are no longer active shows, i.e.: 24, Heroes, Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles. Other popular and active shows appear later in the iTunes lists and some of these are found in Samsung’s store.

Regardless, it’s clear that compared on this limited data set, Apple and Amazon are best suited to be in the business of “selling razor blades” as Gruber correctly notes. Samsung and HTC both have work to do in order to procure licensing terms with more content providers — HTC is way behind in this — but to say Samsung has no “razor blades” to sell isn’t accurate. The company has quietly been building up its content ecosystem for the past year. Amazon and Apple offer the most content for sure, but I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the up-and-comers here.

Samsung’s store has pros and cons

Two related tidbits are worth a mention. First, I rented a movie from Samsung over the weekend — The Adjustment Bureau — and noticed that it had the same viewing period as iTunes, with one caveat. Renting the movie allowed me a 30-day window to watch it, but instead of just 24 hours to view it (once I started), Samsung provided me with 48 hours. I wonder if the company is negotiating longer viewing terms to make up for its lack of content.

Secondly, Apple gets the win for content sharing over Samsung. After I watched my movie rental on AT&T’s (s t) Samsung Galaxy S II — it looked incredible on the Super AMOLED Plus screen — I connected the phone to my 60-inch HDTV via an HDMI adapter. Upon connecting the Galaxy S II, the phone display was mirrored on my television, as expected. However, I was unable to play the movie on the HDTV. I received an error message saying the content was protected. From what I can tell, that means Samsung hasn’t negotiated the rights to play the content, at least for this particular movie, on an external television set.