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Amazon Dodges Apple Tax With Mobile MP3 Store

HTML5-based store is more a vote of confidence in the business value of Web technology than in its performance characteristics.

Apple iTunes 11: Visual Tour
Apple iTunes 11: Visual Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow) is reinforcing its challenge to Apple's iTunes with the launch of a Web-based MP3 store designed for users of Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch.

Accessing Amazon's MP3 Store is simply a matter of typing into the address bar of the Safari browser on a suitable iPhone or iPod Touch. Mobile website visitors can then browse Amazon's 22-million song catalog and purchase MP3 music files, which will be automatically stored in the buyer's Amazon Cloud account and can be downloaded for storage on the buyer's mobile device if desired.

Google's Chrome browser for iOS apparently can also be used to purchase and download songs, provided the Amazon Cloud Player app is installed -- trying to download an MP3 purchase from Amazon on an iPhone without the Cloud Player app produced an error when attempted using Chrome for iOS.

[ Tech companies are vying for a bite of the education market. Read Lenovo Ruggedizes ThinkPad Chromebook For Schools. ]

Amazon's decision to develop an HTML5-based Web store for mobile devices runs contrary to the prevailing trend among its peers. Both Facebook and Google, each vocal supporters of HTML5 in the past, have shown less enthusiasm for Web technology recently. Facebook made much of its recent effort to replace the HTML5-based webview components in iOS and Android apps with better performing native code. And Google has been beefing up its iOS engineering capabilities and releasing compelling iOS client apps for its Maps and YouTube services.

Though the doubts about HTML5 have been overstated -- Sencha, a maker of Web development technology, showed that Facebook could have gotten better performance from its Web app with better engineering -- Amazon's mobile MP3 Store represents a vote of confidence in the business value of Web technology more than in its performance characteristics. Amazon doesn't have to pay Apple the 30% transaction fee imposed on native app developers who sell goods through the Apple-controlled iOS in-app purchase mechanism.

Apple's iTunes ecosystem generates an enormous amount of revenue. Asymco's Horace Dediu estimates that it brings in some $12 billion for Apple annually, which is about what Amazon generated company-wide every quarter last year.

Amazon first opened its MP3 Store on the Web in September 2007. A week ago, it introduced a service called AutoRip that provides customers who buy compact discs with MP3 copies of the music they purchased, stored in their Amazon Cloud Drive account.

If Amazon's mobile Web store for iPhone and iPod Touch becomes a popular way to buy music, it may help reassure developers that Web technology remains a competitive alternative to native app development, particularly for mobile e-commerce.

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