HTC reportedly making phones for Amazon. But what would Google say?

October 15, 2013
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amazon logo 4 [aa] Hopetts/Flickr

HTC has partnered with Amazon to develop a range of smartphones, reports the Financial Times.

Amazon has been rumored for years to be developing some kind of Kindle phone inside its secretive research division Lab 126. Just at the beginning of this month, TechCrunch reported Jeff Bezos’ company is working on a high-end phone with 3D capabilities, as well as a low cost handset (an earlier rumor said this budget phone would be free, but Amazon denied it).

Now, Financial Times cites people familiar with the project claiming that Amazon has partnered with HTC to create three smartphones, of which one is in an advanced stage of development. The timeline for the release of the devices is subject to change, and Amazon may cancel them altogether. It’s unlikely that Amazon would launch any of the devices this year, said the sources.

Amazon and HTC declined to comment, but the Taiwanese company’s marketing boss Ben Ho commented “we have been very focused on building our own brand, but we have also been very open to co-branding and collaborating with carriers and other technology brands”. Ho was likely referring to the First, the ill-fated smartphone HTC developed in collaboration with Facebook.

What about Google?

There’s a small chance the Financial Times isn’t accurate, but, if it is, there’s a big question looming – what will Google do?

Amazon forked Android to create the OS powering its Kindle Fire tablets, which is incompatible with Google’s services. We can only assume Amazon will use the same OS on its smartphones.

As a member of the Open Handset Alliance, HTC gets to use Google’s suite of apps, which are closed source, in exchange of maintaining the integrity of the open source Android. In other words, HTC cannot fork Android or support another company that forks Android, without risking losing access to Google’s apps.

HTC is in a dire situation, but even so, alienating Google by joining forces with Amazon is dangerous. Mountain View could simply stop licensing Google Play, Search, and its other apps, requiring HTC to provide alternatives. Sure, Amazon could step in to provide its Appstore and other services, but it’s still a huge gamble for HTC.

One more thing to note: the WSJ reported in late August that HTC is developing a new operating system for the Chinese market. Like now, back then we wondered if HTC would be bold (or crazy) enough to fork Android and thus risk incurring Google’s wrath.

 

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