If Apple gives up its position of industry leadership in 2012 the only company capable of assuming that role is Amazon.com. What other company is there?  In the PC space giants like HP and Dell are good followers, not leaders. Intel doesn’t even see itself in such a leadership role. Microsoft is having trouble just holding onto what it has already while Google is a herd of cats. Oracle is too enterprise-centric and everyone else is too darned small. That leaves Amazon.

This doesn’t mean Amazon is a perfect or even an easy replacement for Apple as a design leader because in many ways Amazon is so much less than what Apple has become. But in other ways Amazon is so much more as we’ll see below.

Amazon lacks Apple’s design sense, but Amazon has shown through its many Kindle models an ability and willingness to learn.  This is a big deal. Most companies (heck, most people) don’t really learn anything unless their ass is on fire. One company can copy another, sure, but fully adopting another company’s philosophy almost never happens except in desperation, which is usually too late. Amazon is different. They are willing to do the work to get things right. Today’s Kindle Fire is far from perfect but tomorrow’s Kindle Fire will be much, much better.

How many tries has it taken Microsoft to get to Windows Phone 7?  Amazon can do it quicker.

Amazon is led by its founder, Jeff Bezos, who really wants to assume the Steve Jobs role.  Being led by an inspired founder is vital as Jobs showed through his return to Apple. Bezos seems to me the only CEO of the companies mentioned here who has balls on the scale of Steve Jobs. Bezos is willing to make big bets on new markets. Beyond Jobs even, he’s willing to accept financial losses as a cost of making those bets. With another decade or more available to him as CEO, absent some horrible accident, Bezos is unstoppable.

And here’s the part that many people don’t understand: Amazon can scale its business to a level far beyond anything Apple could ever have imagined.

Steve Jobs had extraordinary success at Apple, growing the company more than 300X in market cap, but how much more can Apple grow?  Apple as envisioned by Jobs could grow to be the biggest computer company, the biggest consumer electronics company, the biggest music company, the biggest telephone company, and the biggest TV company — Apple+Sony+Warner Music+Verizon+Liberty Media. That’s big, but it’s an imaginable number — a number with very real limits.

But Amazon competes with all those same companies and Walmart.

Apple would never sell cars, for example. Can you see Amazon selling cars?  I can.

Bezos and Amazon are willing to do the hard work and make the big bets to assume Apple’s leadership positions in computers, music, video, and consumer electronics. Then they’ll translate that into every other customer-facing industry as well as the Cloud.

Amazon.com will be the world’s first $1 trillion company — not in 2012, but eventually.