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Let's Compare Mobile Media Stores

Over the weekend, I was catching up on reading and came across John Gruber’s analysis of the Amazon (AMZN) Kindle Fire. Gruber wrote a solid piece about the device’s capabilities, target audience, and pricing strategy that’s well worth the read. The majority of Gruber’s writing is about Apple (AAPL) and like many others, he sees the Fire not as an iPad competitor, but more as a tablet that leverages Google’s (GOOG) Android platform in a way that best benefits Amazon while also having the potential to outsell other Android tablets.

One section of Gruber’s article stood out for me, however, because it’s essentially false. It’s a sentiment that many hold, including our own readers: namely, that outside of Amazon, only Apple has a media ecosystem to offer mobile devices.

Here’s the section: “Attack from a position of strength. Build on your previous successes. That’s what Apple does. That’s what Amazon is doing here. The other guys—the Samsungs (005930:KS), HTCs (2498:TT), Motorolas (MMI), RIMs (RIMM)—can’t match Apple’s hardware design, don’t even try to match Apple in terms of original and differentiated software, and struggle to match Apple’s prices because they don’t have the economy of scale advantages Apple does. Those guys can’t match Amazon either, because they have no content to sell. Amazon can give away the razor because they’re already in the business of selling blades. The other guys don’t even have blades to sell.”

Had Gruber pointed only to Research In Motion and Motorola in this part of his piece, it would essentially be valid (although if Google is allowed to purchase Motorola, the company has a young but growing content play).

Samsung and HTC have Content

Apple and Amazon aren’t the only mobile ecosystems in town. Last October, Samsung launched its Media Hub for content sales. The service provides movie and TV media for rental or purchase. I pointed this service out when Samsung announced its Galaxy Player devices, which are iPod Touch competitors and need a media ecosystem for sales success. HTC, too, has launched media stores this year: HTC Watch made its debut with the HTC Sensation 4G handset in April, for example.

Also, my 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, purchased in December of last year, has a Music Hub powered by 7digital. Although I’ve bought much music from Amazon’s MP3 Store over the past few years, I’m now using Rdio these days for my music needs, so I don’t know what the Music Hub offers. It does exist, however. Readers Hub is on my Tab too; it sells newspaper content through PressDisplay, e-books via Kobo, and magazines through Zinio. These are all partnerships and not direct Samsung stores, but I’d be surprised if Samsung doesn’t get some small revenue cut.

Since a music store or video store is only as good as its content, I decided to dig deeper to see how the platforms compare among Apple, Amazon, and Samsung. There are a number of ways to do it. To keep things simple, I used Apple as “the gold standard” or baseline.

Essentially, I used iTunes to build a few lists of the most popular movies, TV shows, and music albums. I then checked Amazon and Samsung to see if they could match Apple’s offerings. (HTC’s services are so new that it’s missing most of what the others offer.) I’m not skipping the data checks to give HTC a pass; the company surely has work to do if it wants to compete.

What I found is presented in this simple chart.

Samsung Trails in Some Sectors

As the baseline, Apple is—and should be—100 percent stocked across the board. Amazon does quite well, missing only one content item, compared to Apple. (For the curious, it’s Mac Miller’s album, Blue Slide Park.) Samsung suffers in several categories, particularly with ABC (DIS) television shows in particular, having just two of iTunes’s top 10 titles.

I’m not defending Samsung here, but several of the TV shows in Apple’s top 10 are no longer active shows, including 24, Heroes, and Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles. Other popular and active shows appear later in the iTunes lists and some are found in Samsung’s store.

It’s clear that this limited data set establishes Apple and Amazon as best suited to be in the business of “selling razor blades,” as Gruber correctly notes. Samsung and HTC both have work to do to procure licensing from more content providers— HTC is way behind in this—but it’s inaccurate to say Samsung has no “razor blades” to sell. The company has quietly been building its content ecosystem for the past year. Amazon and Apple offer the most content, but I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the up-and-comers.

Two related tidbits are worth a mention. First, I rented a movie from Samsung over the weekend—The Adjustment Bureau—and noticed that it had the same viewing period as iTunes, with one welcome difference. Renting the movie allowed me a 30-day window to watch it, but instead of just 24 hours to view it (once I started), Samsung allowed me 48 hours. I wonder if the company is negotiating longer viewing terms to make up for its lack of content.

Secondly, Apple gets the win for content sharing over Samsung. After I watched my movie rental on AT&T’s Samsung Galaxy S II—it looked incredible on the Super Amoled Plus screen—I connected the phone to my 60-inch HDTV via an HDMI adapter. Upon connecting the Galaxy S II, the phone display was mirrored on my television, as expected. However, I was unable to play the movie on the HDTV. I received an error message saying the content was protected. From what I can tell, that means Samsung hasn’t negotiated the rights to play the content, at least for this particular movie, on an external TV set.

Also from GigaOM:

What Amazon’s New Kindle Line Means for Apple, Netflix and Online Media (subscription required)

Napster’s Undoing: Company-wide Layoffs Coming 12/16

Gadget Love Is a Pain Point for Rising Energy Use

Amid NoSQL Hubbub, Oracle Tweaks Fan Fave MySQL Stock Drop Could Cause Aftershocks in the Valley

Tofel is a writer for the GigaOm Network.

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