Being as addicted to electronics as I am, you would think that I would have been more excited when I heard that Amazon was announcing its long rumored entry into the mobile phone market. But despite my gadget addiction, something just wasn’t sitting right with me. What could Amazon do that would differentiate its device in the already crowded mobile space? Did they think they could wedge themselves between the juggernauts that are Samsung and Apple?
On June 18th, Amazon announced its latest Fire OS device, the Amazon Fire Phone. You want specs? Of course you want specs:
- 4.7 inch screen at 720
- 2.2 GHz Quad-core processor (with a separate GPU for graphics)
- 2 GB ram
- 13 MP rear camera, 2.1 MP front camera
- Fire OS 3.5.0 (More on that later)
- 32 or 64 GB storage options
- Infrared Dynamic Perspective sensor system
That last bullet is one of the most interesting parts of this phone. Aside from the normal front facing camera (it’s all about the selfies, right?), the Fire Phone has four additional sensors that are used to track the movement of your face, and along with the other sensors in the phone (gyroscope, etc) gives the phone some rather interesting abilities. The perspective on the screen matches the direction of your view and the orientation of the phone, so the icons and images on the screen tilt and move as you do. You can flip and zoom in on pages in the Kindle app by moving the phone. Gesturing over the phone, like swiping your hand, moves elements away on the Amazon Maps app. Games can use these sensors to do things like allow you to “peek” around corners. It gives applications built to take advantage of this an almost 3-D feel. It opens a whole new world of possibilities.
The other differentiator on this phone is an application called Firefly. When you press the Firefly button, the phone can recognize things like a book or album cover, a song, a bar code or some other form of audio and give you relevant information about it, and if appropriate will give you a link to purchase it from the Amazon store. It’ll show you reviews, information from other sources like Wikipedia, whatever information it can find, it’s going to show it to you. Can you imagine asking someone about something they have like a book or a tube of lipstick and just by scanning it with your phone, Amazon is going to give you the ability to buy it on the spot. From them, of course. Because at the end of the day, this phone, like their tablets, is Amazon’s way of getting you into purchasing things from them. And since it’s Amazon, chances are whatever you’re looking at, they got.
And again, let’s be clear: the Kindle Fire line is a doorway into pulling you into Amazon’s ecosystem. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, and you use Amazon’s movie streaming service and are interested in Amazon’s music streaming service and you have a Kindle Fire and a Fire TV, then this phone could interest you. May as well round out your devices.This isn’t anything new, of course; Apple does the same thing. You have the iPhone and the iPad and the Mac line of computers, and Apple would like nothing better than to have you be “all in” with Apple because you’re getting all of your apps and music through them. Google is working really hard to set up the same situation. But when you look at the device compared to all the other devices it’s competing against, it becomes a harder sell. You’re only going to be able to download apps from the Amazon App Store, and compared to Apple and Android, it’s trailing behind in selection. Having all the sensors on the phone is nice, but if no developers make applications to take advantage of it, it’s just a gimmick. And although it looks nice, the phone itself isn’t anything to write home about, especially at the price they’re asking for it; it’s going to be $199 on a 2-year contract and ONLY available from AT&T. Compared to what’s already out there (and what’s coming, namely the new iPhone), this thing is fighting an uphill battle. There are PLENTY of phones out there for this price range that blow this away, spec-wise. And while Fire OS is nice, it’s not as familiar as iOS, Windows Phone OS or whatever flavor of Android manufacturers like Samsung and HTC are using on their devices.
I’m sure once it launches this phone will definitely have an audience. But considering what I’ve seen so far, I’d be rather bearish about recommending it. To be fair, I haven’t seen it in person, or touched it or played with it. All I have is the information reported by the dozen or so sites and videos I’ve watched. But from that, there isn’t anything about the Fire Phone that would convince me to buy it, or recommend it over an iPhone, Moto phone or a Galaxy phone, especially at $199 on contract. I have a feeling that after 6 months we’ll see this device marked down considerably at a fire sale (no pun intended) on AT&T. But hey … I’ve been wrong before, and on more than one occasion marketing has been responsible for moving something to the top seller list. We’ll see what Amazon can work some magic with this one …