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Amazon Announces Fire Phone!
First device targeted at Mobile Shopping

firephone-bezosAfter many months of speculation and unending rumors, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, unveiled the Amazon Fire Phone last week.

While the phone has some interesting new features – such as a 3D display and automatic product recognition – the significance is much more likely to be in the impact it has on mobile commerce and mobile retail.

The fact that Amazon was designing and building their own smartphone has been one of the worst kept secrets in the industry for a long time. But now the wait is over and full details of the Amazon Fire Phone have been announced. The interesting thing is that while some features are purely technology, some are a more clever combination of technology and service offering which Amazon can provide due to its other ongoing businesses.

Here are the highlights:

Firefly:

This is one of the most interesting new features which lets users link objects they see in the real world to the online world.

Using one of the built-in cameras, the Fire Phone can automatically recognize a wide range of objects and media, for example books, DVDs, phone numbers, QR codes, CDs, games, printed email addresses, URLs, and barcodes. Once it recognizes what you are looking for, it searches its database to find that product for sale on Amazon.

amazon-firephoneAnd if you are not looking to buy something, but instead want information about, for example, a painting, it will connect you to the correct Wikipedia page.

Amazon says Fire Phone can recognize more than 100 million items, including 240,000 movies and TV shows, 160 live TV channels, and 70 million different products.

And to insure that Firefly is easily accessible and widely used by consumers, there is a dedicated “Firefly” button on the phone which activates the feature.

amazon-firephone-3d

Dynamic Perspective 3D

This feature provides a better way to interact with various objects like maps and images. Just by tilting the phone, you get a different perspective on the object, which gives the impression of 3 dimensions.

For example, Bezos showed how the Empire State Building in New York would look with this new feature. Just by turning and tilting the phone he was able to see all around the building, and all the different perspectives.

User interface

Amazon has also added some new user interface features to their phone. To do this, they built 4 extra cameras into the front of the device. These cameras track the user’s head movements and then based on an internal algorithm run the interface.

For example, when looking at a rack of clothes while shopping, simply tipping the phone will move to the next item on a rack. Standard web pages can be scrolled by tilting the phone forward or back. To access menu items while in an app, tilt the phone to the left, and to access content, tip the phone to the right.

Of course it will take some time for application developers to incorporate these into their apps, but it is always good to see advancements in user interface.

Mayday customer service

For quite sometime Amazon has offered Mayday customer service, essentially 24/7 phone access to technical assistance. This feature is now incorporated into the Fire Phone through the Mayday button.

Second screen and Prime content

Second Screen is roughly the same as Apple’s Airplay feature. It will let Fire Phone users stream content from their phone directly to Amazon TVs (and some Samsung TVs), while still using the Fire Phone to access other information about the show.

In addition, Amazon is initially bundling one month free subscription to their Prime service with the Fire Phone. Prime gives access to over 30 million songs, movies, and TV shows, as well as free expedited shipping. Growing the Prime service is a long term objective of Amazon, and this is a great tie-in for the new phone.

Camera and photo storage

As with all smartphones, the Fire Phone includes a high quality camera: 13 megapixels, panorama, burst mode, etc.

What is interesting is that Amazon is also including unlimited online storage for photos. Given the massive scale of Amazon’s IT infrastructure this is a very small load for them, but it could be a great selling point for some consumers.

The downside: Apps!

The one big drawback with Amazon’s Fire Phone is that it has a more limited set of available apps. Because it uses a proprietary version of the Android OS, it will not provide access to the more than 1 million apps on the Google Play store (and of course iPhone apps won’t work with it either). And certain apps from Google (gmail, Google Drive, etc) are very unlikely to ever be ported to the Fire OS by Google.

Summary

While it is unlikely that Amazon will take a major share of the smartphone marketplace anytime soon, the Fire Phone is certainly an interesting test case. In fact it may well be a leading indicator of things to come.

  • To date all smartphones have been very general purpose. However the Fire Phone seems to be fully designed with the single objective of improving the mobile shopping experience. Perhaps we have reached the point where special purpose devices will become economically and functionally desirable again.
  • Amazon is clearly trying to increase the customer value of Fire Phone by linking it to other services they offer. Perhaps this will be the recipe in the future for successfully launching new targeted or proprietary devices.
  • The biggest question around Fire Phone is likely to be whether or not consumers will accept the limited library of apps in return for the new features and the better shopping experience. However, Amazon’s app store currently has around 250,000 apps, perhaps this is enough and we will see that no one really needs access to over a million apps.

Amazon has shown the ability to launch a hardware product and iterate it over time, while adding new service components, in order to arrive at a product+service combination that is very compelling to consumers. I would bet that the Fire Phone will follow a similar trajectory, and over the coming few years we will see Amazon build an interesting business around it.

However, the largest impact of the Fire Phone is likely to be on the overall progress of mobile retail and mobile shopping. This industry is still very new, and many consumers are still not very comfortable with it. Anything which significantly improves the mobile shopping experience – and Fire Phone has the potential to do that – can have a large effect on the uptake of the industry.


26.06.2014    Tags: , , ,
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