Apple and Amazon are on a path to compete more closely than ever, but Werner Vogels says his rival's late co-founder established a customer-first culture that all businesses could learn from.
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Amazon chief technology officer Werner Vogels was among the many tech industry leaders to praise Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died Tuesday after a lengthy battle with cancer.
"I don't feel I'm particularly worthy to be mentioned in his company," Vogels said Wednesday, as he kicked off a keynote address at the Interop technology conference and expo, a UBM TechWeb event, in New York City.
Vogels took the stage after conference-goers took a moment to reflect on Jobs' passing. Auditorium lights were briefly dimmed while John Lennon's "Imagine" played. An image of the person President Obama hailed as "one of the greatest American innovators" gazed down from a pair of big screens.
Vogels said Jobs, and his company, were successful due to "his relentless focus on the customer. It's something we should all aspire to." At the same time, said Vogels, Apple's late chief also knew that gadgets like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, no matter how beautiful, wouldn't sell themselves. "Jobs was a showman, and he knew that the show must go on."
Amazon is one of the many contenders that will now try to move in on Apple's turf now that its innovator-in-chief has passed on. Last week it launched the Kindle Fire, a multi-purpose tablet that, at $199, is $300 cheaper than the least expensive iPad 2.
Amazon is selling the device at below cost, hoping it will steer consumers to the company's trove of subscription media services, which includes movies, music, and games. Amazon hosts those offerings on its own EC2 cloud infrastructure. It's also pitching that infrastructure to businesses who want to move their operations to the cloud through the Amazon Web Services group.
Vogels said cloud computing gives corporate IT departments the chance to be agile, innovative, and responsive at costs that are lower than what's achievable through in-house data centers.
"The charge of CIOs for the past 10 years has been all about cutting costs," said Vogels. "IT has been seen as the blocker. That's a problem, the business groups have to move faster than what IT can deliver," he said. "This is why we are deploying technology that will help you become more agile."
Amazon launched AWS in 2006. Businesses, apparently, are buying into a value proposition that promises pay-as-you-go, on-demand computing resources that can be scaled up or down as needed. AWS' S3 storage service hosted 2.9 billion objects after its first year. As of the third quarter 2011, that number had ballooned to 566 billion. "We haven't really seen the knee of the hockey stick yet," said Vogels.
AWS customers now number in the hundreds of thousands, including The New York Times, the U.S. federal government, SAP, and NASDAQ. If more sign up, that could be good news for existing subscribers. "We will continuously lower our prices if you, our customers, help us create additional economies of scale," said Vogels.
Vogels said AWS has lowered its prices 14 times in the past five years. That's not exactly a business model that Jobs, who successfully bet that consumers would pay a premium for devices that emphasized form as much as function, would have approved of.
But Amazon and Apple share at least one thing in common. If you don't like the product, "you're free to walk away," said Vogels.
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