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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Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 3:46:01 PM
Re: Amazon, not in Apple's fashion class
Saying "feels icky to me" hits it square on the head. At least when Apple manipulates its customers it leaves them feeling good about it, judging from product loyalty. Amazon should have devoted the R&D money to fixing some of the problems on its site.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 3:29:41 PM
Amazon, not in Apple's fashion class
I agree that Amazon shouldn't be singled out for producing a device that helps you buy stuff from them. Both the iPhone and Android universes had their own "extract dollars from the consumer" strategies. Apple stands out with its former ability to make it high fashion to do this, with eager participation from the loyal consumer. Android has clearly fallen short on that measure, and Amazon, well, if it's so obvious that you're producing a device through which you plan to sell stuff, then you've fallen out of the fashion window entirely. Being late has its penalties.
MrEdofCourse
IW Pick
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MrEdofCourse,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 3:19:29 PM
Re: Convenient Oversight
" iPhone's number one purpose is to sell apps, which Apple does in great quantities."

The number one purpose of the iPhone is to make a profit selling the iPhone itself.  The profit from content and services pales in comparison to the profit off the iPhone.

For Google, it makes money primarily off advertising with services and content being secondary.

Amazon is aiming to make money off content and product sales.

All 3 models have their pros and cons.  Amazon usually has fantastic hardware and a fairly low price as they build out their entire ecosystem.  Personally, I prefer the iPhone and I'm pretty entrenched in Apple's entire ecosystem (Macs, iPads, Apple TV), but I do have a Nexus 7 and a Fire TV, so I can see the pros and cons of each.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
6/20/2014 | 3:09:29 PM
Re: Convenient Oversight
Yes, the Fire Phone is built specifically with the idea that it will increase Amazon's retail sales. 

I don't see anything wrong with that. Let the market decide whether or not that is a viable smartphone option. 

The big concern, I think, is the lack of apps. If the Fire Phone cannot compete with Android apps, or make it difficult for existing apps to port, then I think that there is an issue. 
eboneezer
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eboneezer,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 2:33:02 PM
icky feeling
"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......."

This statement kind of contradicts the complaint earlier in the article about no having the Google Play Store does it not?  Google the omnipresent, all encompassing purveyor makes me feel icky.

 

 
DavidB702
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DavidB702,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 2:14:31 PM
The biggest problem
I'm invested in Amazon's infrastructre, I have their credit card, Prime, a Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, my young son has a Kindle Fire HD 8.9, I have a FireTV box.  Honestly none of that "problem" bothers me, nor does lack of access to Google Play store (installing any available Android app is simple on my Fire HDX, and it's not "rooted" and Google Chrome is it's default web browser).  The Amazon app store is available on essentially every device I use (I own no Apple product), and once I make a purchase there the app/content is available to all my devices (even my BlackBerry!), so for me that's WIN with respect to this phone.  No, the biggest "problem" with the Fire smartphone is the AT&T exclusivity.  If I wanted a Fire smartphone I'd have to talk my wife into buying a new iPhone and us switching off of Verizon, neither of which for me are within the realm of possibility.  For launching this phone as a AT&T exclusive I'm really disappointed in Amazon.

 

 
MattN577
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MattN577,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 2:01:25 PM
Well said!
Your last two paragraphs perfectly sum up my reaction. Thank you!
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
6/20/2014 | 1:50:05 PM
Ugh, no thanks
A crippled Android os is a major turnoff, one of the biggest pitfalls with the Kindle Fire.  And the 'Mayday' feature is not going to sell past that.  This thing must have a specific target audience...
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 1:22:45 PM
Re: Convenient Oversight
Every mobile phone and OS provider has something to sell, be it apps or mobile ads. Sure, Apple and Google had ulterior motives for creating mobile phones and tablets. But with Amazon the ulterior motives are MUCH more glaring and self-serving.
JohnnyM585
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JohnnyM585,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 12:56:10 PM
gimmick
Here....buy this phone.  It will help you buy more stuff from us.
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