Steve Jobs at the iPad 2 unveiling. (Credit: Apple webcast.)

To understand the competitive mindset of Steve Jobs at any given moment, it’s important to listen to the sales updates that the Apple CEO traditionally gives at the beginning of the company’s special events. But it’s not the numbers that matter so much as the rivals they put in the crosshairs.

And it’s no coincidence that was Topic No. 1 at the iPad 2 unveiling last week.

After announcing 100 million book downloads for the Apple iBookstore, and trumpeting a deal with Random House, Jobs (back temporarily from his medical leave) turned to the topic of online commerce — telling the crowd that the Apple ID logins had reached an important milestone.

“Recently we just crossed 200 million accounts,” Jobs told the crowd. “These are accounts with credit cards and 1-click purchasing,” he said. “Now, Amazon doesn’t publish their numbers, but it’s very likely this is the most accounts with credit cards anywhere on the Internet.”

The relationship between the companies has historically been cordial. Apple was actually the first company to license Amazon’s controversial 1-click purchasing technology, which explains why Jobs was able to use the phrase last week without fear of legal repercussion. But that was back in 2000, and in recent months the two companies have increasingly been crossing paths, and swords.

Last month, Apple’s rollout of in-app iOS subscriptions — giving itself a 30 percent cut — caused a dustup when it became clear that one of Apple’s rules meant Amazon would no longer be able to link e-book buyers from inside the Kindle iOS app to the Kindle web store, where Apple wouldn’t get a cut.

But Amazon hasn’t updated the Kindle app since then, and as of this weekend the link to the Kindle web store remained in the app, suggesting a stand-off between the companies, or at least some awkward behind-the-scenes discussions.

Separately, as Amazon prepares to launch its “Appstore” — not “App Store,” mind you — for Google Android devices, the Seattle company has been making rumblings about expanding to other mobile platforms, giving rise to speculation that Amazon may be mulling an iOS app store, possibly resulting in even more competitive awkwardness.

Of course, Amazon also partners with Apple, not only by offering Kindle for iOS but also as a retailer of Apple’s products.

In that way, the whole thing is starting to feel a lot like Apple’s relationship with Microsoft, where each company knows it needs the other for specific parts of its business — but secretly wishes it didn’t.

Todd Bishop is co-founder of, a new technology news site based in Seattle.

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  • Rob Stewart

    I think it’s very unlikely that Amazon will release an iOS app store. I don’t think they could do that on such a locked down platform. However, what I’m very interested to know is what is really driving Amazon to launch their own Android app store. Certainly Amazon is interested in getting the revenue from Android devices that are not “Google Experience” devices (which do not have the Android Market preinstalled). There are lots of devices like the Archos tablet that would benefit from another Android App Store. It would also make it easy for them to position the Kindle app front and center. However, I am wondering if something else may be going on.

  • James Kendrick

    Spot on, as I wrote about on ZDNet a few months back. I believe Amazon is the one company that can give Apple a serious run at competition.

  • Jeff Schader

    @Rob Stewart: Don’t be so sure. Amazon could easily create an iOS store for the “jailbreakers” out there. And if they do, it will eclipse Cydia very quickly

    • Rob Stewart

      Somehow I don’t buy it. Amazon is a very large, established brand. Frankly, I would be stunned if they released an app store that requires customers to circumvent the security measures on the Iphone. I could see a small scrappy company doing this but not Amazon. It is just too shady. Also, have you seen any data regarding the percentage of users who actually jail break their Iphones? I haven’t, but I would bet it isn’t a big percentage.

  • :::::: New Space Agency ::::::

    yes, and it will start when Amazon will release its own version of iPad

  • Anonymous

    Amazon couldn’t do an app store for iOS. They would have to be web apps where you click the button “Add to homescreen.” They wouldn’t have permission to install apps onto my springboard. Am I missing something? They could always go the jailbreak, but it is too much effort for a relatively small audience.

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