The New Amazon Phone
Written by Steve Ross
In late July, Amazon debuted the Fire Phone - designed to help the company carve out its own slice of the lucrative smartphone market. But in a crowded marketplace, what is Amazon doing to make its phone stand out from the crowd and, with the iPhone 6 lurking just over the horizon, will that be enough to ensure the Fire isn't snuffed out before time?
What is the Fire Phone?
The obvious first question about the Fire Phone, is "why?". Why would customers want to buy an Amazon device as opposed to an iPhone or a Samsung when these competitor companies have dominated, not just the smartphone, but the hardware landscape expertly, for years?
While by no means revolutionary, the Fire Phone's specs should be attractive to the average, prospective customer: the device features a palm-friendly 4.7 inch screen with a resolution of 1280 x 720 and uses a quad-core, 2.2GHz processor. A 13 megapixel camera is incorporated onto the phone's rear, while the front features a 2.1 megapixel camera. The phone runs with modified version of Android: Fire OS 3.5.0.
Beyond the phone's technical specs, Amazon are relying on a number of innovative features to lure users to their device - and, according to the company, help them "see and interact with the world through a whole new lens".
- Dynamic Perspective: the Fire Phone's Dynamic Perspective feature is an interface which recognises a user's head position and adjusts the screen to create a 3D effect (free from the need for annoying glasses). Dynamic Perspective's 3D effect can be used for maps, internet browsing and, most impressively, gaming.
- Firefly: using the Fire Phone's camera, Firefly recognises, captures and saves specific information about the world around you (be that image, sound or text) without you having to slowly type every digit or word into your handset. Going further, Firefly can also be used to recognise songs, TV shows, art, films and barcodes - and then pull information about those things from the internet - including items available to buy on Amazon.com.
- FireTV: the Fire Phone's connection to the Amazon 'experience' extends to FireTV, with a feature that lets users stream video from their phone, to their FireTV set-top box.
- Digital Content: the Fire Phone takes advantage of Amazon's vast library of digital content, offering access to millions of songs, apps, games, books, magazines, TV and movie content. Fire Phone users also receive 12 months of Amazon Prime membership - meaning they can access much of that content for free.
It's obvious Amazon isn't trying to throw the Fire Phone into a stand-up fight with heavyweights like the iPhone and the Galaxy - but instead position it as a indispensable lifestyle accessory for the fully-connected e-commerce user. In this respect, the phone's integration with the wider Amazon superstructure is particularly compelling: the sheer volume and diversity of weird and wonderful items available to buy on Amazon's website gives Fire users the ability search for anything their hearts desire, more easily than ever.
Return of the iPhone
In the short time it has been on the market, the Fire Phone has seen modest success (albeit mostly through Amazon website sales). Furthermore, in a random sample of 600 iPhone and Android users in the United States, 27% of iPhone users and 24% of Android users said they would consider switching to the Fire. The problem is - the release of Apple's blockbusting iPhone 6 is right around the corner. Alexandra Arnone of the New York Institute of Technology outlines the issue succinctly:
"I thought it looked like a good idea to have everything at your fingertips" said Arnone. "A free year of Prime, Free movies, books and music... at least until the novelty of free wears off."
The iPhone 6 is expected to outperform the Fire technically in almost every way: a higher resolution, the brand new and extremely versatile iOS8 operating system, and a faster processor (2.6 GHz). The only area in which the Fire Phone is expected to be more attractive is price: the Fire debuted in the US at $199 (with a 2 year contract), while the iPhone's various models are expected to be priced between $199 - $399.
Adding fuel to the Fire
Given the technical superiority of the iPhone 6, the Fire will succeed or fail on the strength of its visual and e-commerce features - and whether users see them as essentials or as gimmicks. However, one school of thought suggests that - sink or swim - Amazon will learn from the debut of its first smart-phone with particular attention paid to the e-commerce-focused Firefly feature.
UserTesting spokesman, Michael Mace, believes that, while the Fire Phone, may not come second, or third - or even fourth - to the iPhone 6, the "bigger danger" to Amazon was letting a competitor e-commerce company get there first:
"It doesn't look like the Fire will wipe out Android or the iPhone," said Mace "but this an experiment to get user feedback. Version 2 or 3 will be the one to watch".
The Fire Phone may well end up burning bright and brief - but the ideas behind it will certainly endure - and be incorporated into Amazon mobile products and strategies in the future.
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