I love team-ups. Whether it be the Avengers or Ed Exley and Bud White, there’s nothing I enjoy more than that moment where a couple of at-odds, would-be heroes put aside their differences and instead work together towards a common goal.
The time is ripe for an Apple and Amazon team-up. Despite the low-level animosity that seems to color many of their recent interactions, the two of these superpowers working together could be a force for good.
Because Apple and Amazon aren’t enemies—not really. Yes, they have their areas of competition: Cloud storage, digital music, ebooks, and so on. But at their heart, they have fundamentally different goals.
Amazon wants to sell you stuff. That could be everything from books to patio furniture to a recurring diaper subscription. Apple, on the other hand, wants you to buy its devices: Macs, iPhones, iPads, and so on. Everything else is subservient to these respective goals: Apple sells music and ebooks to convince people to buy its devices; Amazon sells devices to get people to buy more things from its site.
To me, that seems more complementary than competitive.
Imagine the might of these two superpowers combined.
I’m thinking of a few places in particular where tensions between Amazon and Apple could be eased. For example, I’d love to be able to purchase Kindle ebooks (or comics in Comixology) via their respective iOS apps. Currently, this runs afoul of Apple’s in-app purchase restrictions, which require the vendor to give up 30 percent of every transaction and forbid them from not only offering any other way to buy digital content through an app, but even prohibit linking to, say, a web-based store.
As a customer of both Amazon and Apple this is an exercise in bang-your-head-against-the-wall frustration. Much as I’m sure Apple would love to pull down 30 percent of all Kindle ebook sales through Amazon’s iOS app, let’s be clear: It’s never gonna happen. Apple also might hope that this limitation will entice more of its customers towards buying their ebooks from the iBooks Store, but I don’t think those who have invested time and money in the Kindle platform are likely to give in quite so easily. Instead, they’ll just figure out how to buy books from Amazon’s website and read them in the Kindle app, then grumble at what they perceive as Apple’s moneygrubbing nature.
But again, this isn’t an area where Apple and Amazon should be competing. Because, as mentioned above, Apple’s goal is for you to buy their products. And you know what makes those products more compelling? Being able to buy ebooks without jumping through hoops. Hey, imagine if you could even use Apple Pay to buy those Kindle books. That’d be pretty great, wouldn’t it? Maybe there’s a little quid pro quo there for Apple and Amazon.
The thin end of the wedge for the two to team up is already there: iCloud, for example, uses Amazon S3 in part for data storage. Granted, the other areas I’d love to see some Amazon-Apple synergy are a bit more far-fetched. I’m on record as an Amazon Echo fan, and it’d be great if Apple Music worked with that device (don’t worry, I’m not holding my breath). Heck, if the Echo could even relay commands to my iPhone, that’d be great. (Wait: I wonder if Siri and Alexa could talk to each other? Or did I just invent Skynet?)
There are, of course, obstacles to overcome before the two can truly learn to trust each other. Over the years, both Apple and Amazon have made forays into the other’s core markets. Apple launched iBooks along with the iPad back in 2010, and while it may have done okay as a competitor, it also got smacked down by the courts for its illegal practices in attempting to disrupt Amazon’s stranglehold. Amazon, meanwhile, tried to launch its own smartphone which, well, the less said about the Fire Phone, the better, probably.
The problem comes is that this competition has started making customers into casualties. To continue the superhero metaphor, Apple and Amazon are like Superman and General Zod in Man of Steel, throwing each other into buildings with little regard for the ordinary people running around.
For two companies that claim to be so devoted to delighting their customers, both spend an awful lot of time fighting these flag-planting, territory-staking turf wars, more concerned with wrapping the user up in their own ecosystems—where, like a luxury hotel, they’ll want for nothing and never have to leave—that they lose sight of the bigger picture: Giving the customers what they want, not what the companies think they want.
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.