Amazon Unveils Fire Phone

by Matt Klassen on June 19, 2014

As expected Amazon unveiled its first smartphone—not surprisingly dubbed the Fire Phone—at a press event in Seattle on Wednesday, finally confirming the ecommerce giant’s desire to wade into the ultra-competitive smartphone market currently dominated by the likes of Samsung and Apple.

At its core Amazon’s new smartphone is what any Amazon device is designed to be: a tool for consumers to locate and purchase products and services from the nation’s largest online retailer. In fact, among all the features the new Fire Phone sports, like the company’s “Firefly” advanced audio and object recognition technology, most are aimed squarely at helping people find (and buy) exactly what they’re looking for.

While there’s no question that the Fire Phone will serve the company’s “most engaged customers,” there remains the question whether it will attract any casual Amazon users, particularly those wanting more than an advanced purchasing platform for what they’ll have to pay for this or any other cutting edge smartphone.

“Can we build a better phone for our most engaged customers? Can we build a better phone for Amazon Prime members? The answer is yes,” CEO Jeff Bezos told a crowd of 300 invited guests at the company’s release event held yesterday.

When it comes to smartphone features, however, the Fire Phone seems rather plain, even if it does have the ability to display 3D images and 3D maps, supports 3D gaming, and also features a way to scroll through Web pages simply by tilting the phone.

The 4.7-inch device (larger than the iPhone, smaller than Samsung’s premium Galaxy smartphones) offers little in the way of true innovation, as even the ability to take pictures of objects and find out how to buy them is something we’ve seen on other phones and third-party apps before.

But again, Amazon didn’t want to make a phone to dethrone the mobile incumbents, it wanted to make a phone that does what all other Amazon products do, sell things to you. “It goes back to the mission of Amazon, which is to sell you stuff,” said Ramon Llamas of the research firm IDC. “It reduces the number of steps it takes to buy things on the phone.”

And that is perhaps the true innovation of this phone, Amazon’s attempt to redefine the smartphone not simply as a communications or data hub, but a ecommerce hub as well, making it the perfect shopping companion whether at home or out on the go.

But leading up to the release analysts were adamant that the only way Amazon would succeed in the mobile market is if it was able to beat its competitors in one key area: price. As with other Amazon products, many thought the online retail giant would choose to make the phone substantially more affordable up front, taking the hit to the pocket book in hopes that backend purchases would cover the cost.

That wasn’t to be, however, as prices of the two variants of the Fire Phone are both comparable to their respective competitors, meaning despite the fact they both offer significantly more storage space than their rivals, it likely won’t be enough to differentiate it in the market.

In the end, the one thing that does perhaps set the Fire Phone apart from its rivals is what Amazon has bundled with it, offering a free year of Amazon Prime ($99 value), giving users access to premium Amazon services like its new streaming video offering and expedited shipping on products. I suppose we’ll see if that’s enough for the Amazon Fire Phone to take the market by storm, or whether it’ll simply flame out due to lack of consumer interest.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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