Much has already been said about Amazon’s Fire Phone since its formal unveiling yesterday afternoon in Seattle. The biggest surprise to me was its price: $199 with a two year contact and $650 unlocked. In other words it’s priced like an iPhone.
The selling points of the phone have relatively little to do with the hardware, although it has what appears to be a very nice 13MP rear camera. Here is the combination of features that Amazon hopes will attract buyers:
- Free unlimited cloud photo storage
- Deep and extensive integration of the Amazon content and services ecosystem (including free video support, “MayDay”)
- Firefly, which is like Shazam for the real world. It’s visual/image recognition technology is derived from Amazon Flow
- Dynamic perspective: a kind of 3D experience on the home screen and for games
- A free year of Amazon Prime for new customers
I have not held the phone and had a chance to use it. However those who have have said it’s a fairly straightforward Android handset in most respects. Beyond the 3D effect, the UI/UX offers a few innovative minor features (tilt for content, menus) but in general it’s unremarkable.
What struck me beyond the pricing was the idea that this phone is not really about users, it’s about Amazon. It’s a pipeline to Amazon content, services and sales.
One could make the same argument about the iPhone and other Android devices. Indeed antitrust complaints in Europe argue Google has illegally “bundled” its content and apps for Android phones. But there’s something fundamentally different here.
This phone is designed to sell Amazon stuff perhaps first and foremost, more than iPhones and Android handsets are designed to sell songs or movies. The Fire Phone is optimized for Amazon-centric selling. Firefly is an example: recognize an item in the real world, buy it through Amazon.
A complete judgment about the device can’t be rendered until one has a chance to use the phone. But my guess is that the more extensive reviews that will trickle out over the next week or two will mostly be like the first-generation Kindle Fire reviews. They’ll say this is a good phone (not the best on the market) that offers a lot for Amazon loyalists.
There won’t be many iPhone users who switch or who buy this instead of the anticipated iPhone 6. There also won’t be many Android fans who buy this — it doesn’t offer the full complement of Android apps and Google is essentially MIA, though accessible via the browser. This device will primarily appeal to Prime members and perhaps those once removed.
According to third party estimates there are just under 30 million Prime members. The Fire phone is partly an effort to grow their ranks. Beyond this audience there will probably be few drawn to this handset.
Had Amazon priced this phone as aggressively as it priced the original Kindle Fire — say $149 or even $199 unlocked — I believe it would have a serious hit and Android competitor on its hands. But what it has now is a device with some interesting features but which probably won’t . . . catch fire.