Amazon Fire: 6 Key Points - InformationWeek

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Mobile // Mobile Devices
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6/20/2014
10:46 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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Amazon Fire: 6 Key Points

Amazon's Fire smartphone might convince people to buy more stuff from Amazon. But consider these factors before buying the phone.
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Amazon on Wednesday announced its first smartphone, the Fire Phone. Amazon's main goal: Put a specialized purchasing device in the hands of its best and most loyal customers. Amazon believes it can use consumers' insatiable demand for new smartphones to replicate the success of its Kindle line of tablets, which people use to buy many things from Amazon. Amazon made a key mistake in its thinking, however, that could spell disaster for the Fire Phone.

The Fire Phone has lots of strengths. The hardware is decent. It doesn't compete with top smartphones, but its quality and features surpass those of many mid-range and entry-level competitors. It comes loaded with content, and with a free year of Amazon Prime, Fire Phone owners have their pick of movies, television shows, and music to watch and listen to at no extra cost, at least for a while. It has a good camera. The 13-megapixel shooter is good in low light and uses image stabilization to sharpen focus.

The Mayday feature will appeal to the tech illiterate. Can't figure out how to change the Fire Phone's settings? Use Mayday and a live Amazon tech support representative will appear to help, no matter the time of day. Smartphone novices might find Mayday a lifesaver when they get stuck using the phone's features. No other phone maker offers what amounts to 24/7 roadside assistance. It's an insurance policy of sorts. The Fire Phone competes on these fronts well.

The weaknesses have to do with Amazon's long-term thinking. For instance, Amazon obviously spent years developing some of the Fire Phone's technologies. Dynamic Perspective stands out as the most promising, yet most gimmicky, feature. Dynamic Perspective uses four user-facing cameras to define exactly where the owner's head is. The Fire Phone uses this data to create 3D effects in certain parts of the user interface. Dynamic Perspective currently is limited to wallpapers, maps, and screensavers. Amazon was smart enough to offer a software development kit for Dynamic Perspective, but developers have to be convinced to use it. If they don't, Amazon will have spent years creating something that's nothing but a novelty.

Firefly is a great tool for tracking down real-world objects online. Snap their picture with the camera and Firefly offers links to those objects on Amazon's website. It can do the same with audio, such as music and television shows. Amazon put tons of work into making Firefly fast and user friendly. It will certainly serve as a useful tool for finding more information about a great many things out in the world. At the end of the day, however, its main goal is to get people to find things sold by Amazon and to purchase them using their phone.

Another problem is apps. The Fire Phone runs Fire OS, a forked version of Android that is compatible with many -- but not all -- Android apps. This could lead to discontent among users if they find their favorite app isn't supported. Further, the Fire Phone doesn't include the Google Play Store, which is where most Android device owners find their apps, games, and content. It will use Amazon's Appstore instead. Amazon has about 240,000 apps and games in its store, which falls well short of the 1.2 million in the Google Play Store.

The Fire Phone's biggest problem is its soul, if you will. In developing the Fire Phone, Amazon chiefly looked for ways in which to coax consumers to buy more stuff. That's not what a smartphone's primary purpose is or should be. Smartphones are for connecting, for communication, for managing, and for discovering. Yes, they are often used to buy and entertain, but the most popular apps are for keeping owners in touch with the people in their lives. They are apps for texting, email, and social networks.

The smartphone in my pocket already does most of the things the Fire Phone can do. There's something about the Fire Phone's tie-in to a single, giant purveyor of goods that feels icky to me. I'd rather not feel that way about my smartphone, and I'm betting others might feel the same. Still, the Fire Phone offers some cool technology and will appeal to die-hard Amazon shoppers. Click through our slideshow to judge for yourself.

Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

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anon1224217064
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anon1224217064,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 11:18:56 AM
Great article...
...right up to your use of the term "icky."  Hard to take seriously once that was digested.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 11:34:03 AM
Google Play concern
Eric isn't the only one raising the Google Play Store concern. See Amazon Fire: Here's The Rub.
JoeShmoe9000
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JoeShmoe9000,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 11:47:07 AM
Convenient Oversight
While I will grant that Amazon's motivations are the most transparent, neigh flagrant, the thrust of this article rather conveniently ignores the two most dominant operating systems. Android and iOS. Both of which will root the consumer within one ecosystem or another. iPhone's number one purpose is to sell apps, which Apple does in great quantities. That says nothing of the music, movie, and magazine sales. Google may be the lesser offender, but numerous Google branded services are still pushed on the consumer. Try to be a little more balanced next time, please?
ANON1241631011972
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ANON1241631011972,
User Rank: Strategist
6/20/2014 | 11:52:59 AM
I totally agree!
As an Amazon Prime member, I certainly am no adversary of their business model.  However, my phone is MINE!  I have two objections to the Fire:  First, the single carrier launch.  I understand that there needs to be carrier partnership but ignoring the huge Verizon market is a big mistake.  Second, an Android based phone that deliberately isolates customers from the mature Google apps marketplace is pretty much doomed.

 

Aside from that, as the article points out, the central theme of a phone is to support the customer's needs for multi-dimensional communication.  The heart of the Fire is to create a one-dimensional dependency on Amazon.  I predict this phone will fail to gain market share in the absence of any other compelling feature that compensates a buyer for giving up the more established sources of support and convenience for smartphone users.
GaryY450
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GaryY450,
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6/20/2014 | 11:55:26 AM
Amazon Fire
Why in the HELL! Isn't it available in an unlocked version.? I've nothing but bad a experiences with AT&T.
ANON1241631011972
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ANON1241631011972,
User Rank: Strategist
6/20/2014 | 12:04:16 PM
Re: Convenient Oversight
"neigh?" really?  insert horselaugh here.  :-)  But, seriously, I don't know how an article about an unbalanced phone can be expected to maintain balance.  You are right that Apple has a closed system.  However, it is hardly fair to claim that, simply because Google sponsors Android, that it is a closed system.  After all, if that were true, the Fire would not even be possible since it is Android based.  And there are other marketplaces for Android apps besides Google--they just aren't as useful.  Sideloading apps is fairly easy on most Android devices--even those that, like Nook and Kindle, try to lock the user in.

So, criticizing the article for not pointing out all of the other closed systems out there seems to me to be missing the point.  The point of the article is that, unlike successful closed systems such as iOS, Amazon is not offering a compensating rich ecosystem for supporting the purpose of the smartphone, itself, to be competitive.  The iPhone is not simply about iTunes and paid apps, for example, although Apple certainly does profit from content as well as communication.
JoeShmoe9000
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JoeShmoe9000,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 12:13:42 PM
Re: Convenient Oversight
I'll keep the English strictly modern then, I wouldn't want to lose anyone. The word was ecosystem, not closed system. And unless you jailbreak your phone, it is in fact, a closed system. "They just arent't as useful?" Really? That is a rebuttle? I agree with you on the point of the article, I just think it's fatuous. The iPhone is honestly a device for selling. Consumers just benefit from the fact that is can be used as a communications device. Every Android phone, including the Fire, is trying to play catch-up. Amazon is just trying to get on the same bandwagon that Apple and Google have been riding. They just aren't being at all subtle about it. When the first iPhone and significant Android phones were released, everyone predicted abject failure. They were all, unequivocally, wrong. You also could not buy these phones, through normal consumer channels, unlocked for quite a while. Amazon isn't doing anything different. If they fail, it will because it's just too late for a new player.
ANON1241631011972
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ANON1241631011972,
User Rank: Strategist
6/20/2014 | 12:25:10 PM
Re: Convenient Oversight
Sorry.  Making a gentle jest of your misuse of the word, "neigh," was childishly irresistable.  However, I see now that you seriously think it is an archaic synonum for "nay," which is what we all knew you meant.  That is not the case.  There is no dictionary that equates the two--either modern or archaic.  They all agree on some rendition of these two definitions of neigh (noun and verb):

"neigh (n) n. The long, high-pitched sound made by a horse. intr.v. neighed, neigh·ing, neighs. To utter the characteristic sound of a horse; whinny."

Having disposed of that piece of trivia, I agree with your overall analysis.  I just don't think it is a fair criticism of the author, whose point was simply to say that we don't need another closed system--especially one that is closed around a retailer that lacks the cachet of either an Apple or a Google in the computing/communication/content space.
ANON1241631011972
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ANON1241631011972,
User Rank: Strategist
6/20/2014 | 12:31:16 PM
Re: Convenient Oversight
P.S.  In fact, I agree with you so much that I routinely root my phones so that I can decide how open or closed I want it to be.  After all, it is my property--paid for either outright at full retail price or, if acquired at a carrier discount, amortized over the life of the contract.  And I object strenuously to either the carrier or a content retailer controlling my property in a manner contrary to my wishes.  I pay them for services--not to dictate my use of my stuff.
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
6/20/2014 | 12:48:01 PM
Re: Convenient Oversight
A couple of points of correction:


1:  Sorry, but Eric has been an Apple fanboy going back the half-decade I've been reading IW online.  He's much less flagrant now, but he's lets his biases shine through on a regular basis.  This is obviously one such instance.  Apple is easily as flagrant as Amazon (more militant about keeping the ecosystem closed, actrually), and got there years earlier; that's one reason I, like many other folks, will never buy an Apple product.  Google, by the way goes after ad dollars the way the other two chase purchases, but not everyone considers that less offensive.

2: Why are two closed ecosystems good but three bad?  Its a consumer choice.  Did you feel that way when Google got into competition with Blackberry and Apple?  Or Apple got into competition with Blackberry and Palm?  In this case I prefer pure Android to FireOS (I own both), but I understand that I'm making a personal value judgement that not everyone will agree with (though of course, I'm right!).
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