I think I’ve learned a secret about Amazon. On June 7, Amazon held its annual shareholder’s meeting, and I just took a closer look at my notes. They offer a fascinating peek inside the mind of Jeff Bezos. But can they answer the question about what’s in Amazon’s future?
It seemed like the shareholder’s had one question on their mind: is Amazon building an iPad-style tablet? No one asked the question directly, but several seemed to ask it indirectly. For example, one shareholder asked Bezos how Amazon’s online retail business would look in 10 years. And it seemed like Bezos took the bait.
“One thing that I think will change is that we will see way better mobile devices, even than we have today,” he told the crowd. And then he switched to a historical perspective. “If you look back five years — try using the web on a mobile device five years ago. It was an extraordinarily painful experience. “Today it’s still a marginal experience, in many cases,” he said significantly. “If you have a good WiFi connection and a very good, you know, uh, smartphone or tablet, it’s now getting to be a pretty good situation. But with the average phone that people have and the average cellular connection that people have, the mobile browsing experience is still a pretty marginal one.
“That is going to change.”
Maybe he was just talking generally about the progress of handheld devices, since he also predicted that “we’re going to continue to have pervasive wireless bandwidth that’s going to continue to increase. And the form factors of the phones — the displays, the battery life — smart phones are going to get smarter. They’re going to get better. They’re going to be unbelievably good as web browsing devices.” And then he hit on Amazon’s real stake in the creation of better mobile devices. “That is a huge tailwind for Amazon in our retail business, and so we’re very excited about that.”
But sure enough, next he stopped talking about smartphones and started talking about tablets — while still focusing on its impact on Amazon’s retail business. “I feel the same way about tablets. Most of our customers shop with us from laptops or desktop computers. But people have a different posture with tablets — like, lean back on their sofa. And people leaning back on their sofa, buying things from Amazon, is another tailwind for our business. I’m very excited about that.”
There was a similar moment when another shareholder asked a question about Yahoo’s new “cloud” service (where digital music and video are stored online for access through multiple devices). Maybe that’s all Bezos was talking about — but I wondered if he was thinking about the possibility of playing music and video on Amazon tablet devices. Bezos said that “integrating those consumer experiences, those digital media experiences, into the cloud is something that will be very helpful — for consumers.” Whether it’s consumer-facing or developer-facing, “these are big markets that can support lots of winners,” Bezos said. “And so as has been our practice from the very beginning, we will stay heads-down, focus on the customer experience, and…expect that there will be other winners as well.”
I could be seeing what I want to see in everything that Jeff Bezos said — but Amazon’s other shareholders seemed curious too. The next question raised some of the same issues in more general terms, asking simply “Should we think of you as a technology company, an infrastructure company, an e-commerce company?”
“Yes,” Bezos replied. And of course, if you’re reading between the lines, it’s easy to see the same pattern in his answer.
“In the last six years, as we’ve built Amazon Web services, we’ve also become a company that provides technology. Now we sell technology, which really we hadn’t done. We’d been users of our own proprietary technology, and now we’re on both sides of that.
“And I like both sides of that….”