Amazon wades into the crowded smartphone market with its 3D Amazon Fire phone, dubbed by some a “mobile cash register”
The $649 phone is only available on AT&T in the US, and will compete against Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Android devices, with Amazon hoping it will build on the success of its Kindle Fire tablets. Analysts are dubious about the high price and missing features, however.
No Amazon Fire Sale?
Described by Bloomberg as “essentially a mobile cash register for Amazon.com,” the Amazon Fire phone was revealed at a widely publicised launch event in Seattle hosted by CEO Jeff Bezos on Wednesday. Like its tablet range, the new smartphone is tightly integrated into Amazon’s other services and digital ecosystem.
The handset includes two headline-grabbing features: Dynamic Perspective uses front-facing cameras to track the user’s head and deliver a 3D view of content, while Firefly image-recognition technology cleverly identifies real world items so users can buy them more easily from Amazon’s online shop.
The handset comes only in black and boasts ‘premium’ materials and components. It has a rubberised polyurethane grip area, Gorilla Glass 3 on the front and rear, aluminium buttons, as well as stainless steel details. Amazon says that the Fire is optimised for “beauty, hand comfort and powerful performance.”
Under the hood lurks a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.2 GHz processor and 2GB RAM, which should deliver “excellent fluidity and image rendering.” A 4.7-inch HD display comes with an ambient light sensor and Dynamic Image Contrast to help with troublesome outdoor viewing.
Connectivity wise, it includes nine bands of LTE, four bands of GSM, five bands of UMTS, as well as 802.11ac support, Wi-Fi , NFC, and Bluetooth. On the audio side the handset comes with dual stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus, which Amazon says allows for a “virtual surround sound experience.”
The 13MP rear-facing camera comes with backside illumination, LED flash, Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), and high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities. There is also a 2.1MP front-facing camera for selfies and Skype video calls. Both cameras can record 1080p HD videos.
As would be expected, the Fire handset is also integrated into Amazon’s cloud and includes its backup and restore service and Amazon’s famous Mayday service (video help option).
3D And Firefly
But Dynamic Perspective and Firefly are the two most interesting developments with the handset and set it apart from the rest of the mobile competition.
Dynamic Perspective offers a 3D view of the screen and uses a new sensor system to respond to the way a user views, holds, and moves the Fire handset. It is not a true 3D display, but tracks the user’s face allowing them to look around items on the display, and presenting maps and images effectively in 3D.
The feature also allows the user to use motions to do certain functions such as scrolling, one handed navigation etc. A video of this in action can be found here.
The Firefly button meanwhile is Amazon’s image-recognition technology that promises to “turn the world into a giant hyperlink”. It recognises things in the real world such as web and email addresses, phone numbers, QR and bar codes, movies, music, and products which can be found on the Amazon webstore. It then offers the user “appropriate” actions or services.
“Fire Phone puts everything you love about Amazon in the palm of your hand – instant access to Amazon’s vast content ecosystem and exclusive features like the Mayday button, ASAP, Second Screen, X-Ray, free unlimited photo storage, and more,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO.
“The Firefly button lets you identify printed web and email addresses, phone numbers, QR and bar codes, artwork, and over 100 million items, including songs, movies, TV shows, and products – and take action in seconds,” said Bezos.
“We invented a new sensor system called Dynamic Perspective that recognises where a user’s head is relative to the device – we use it to offer customers a more immersive experience, one-handed navigation, and gestures that actually work. And this is only the beginning – the most powerful inventions are the ones that empower others to unleash their creativity – that’s why today we are launching the Dynamic Perspective SDK and the Firefly SDK – we can’t wait to see how developers surprise us.”
Not a game changer
Despite the fancy features, analysts think Amazon has misfired, pitching a new phone at a premium price without any really game-changing technology.
“This is a high risk launch price strategy which is unsustainable for a smartphone market entrant,” said analyst Ian Fogg of IHS Technology. “Simply having a well-known brand on the box is not enough to sell smartphones as Nokia and Motorola know well. IHS expects Amazon will reduce the Fire’s price within months to make the Fire more attractive.”
Fogg also criticised Amazon’s launch on one carrier, in one country. As AT&T only ships 8 million smartphones each quarter, Amazon can’t quickly match more established providers, and is failing to capitalise on the Fire’s full-spectrum 4G network support which could easily work round the world.
Without Google’s Play store on board, any Android users who move to the Fire Phone will lose their existing apps, Fogg says.
The lack of Play also means Amazon is relying on its own software or third party app developers, who won’t be interested in a small market, so Dynamic Perspective won’t get used properly in apps. “Amazon will either need to accept fewer apps supporting the features and so reduced differentiation for the Fire, or it will have to pay for developers to code for its smartphone, raising Amazon’s costs and making it even harder to push its smartphone strategy into the black,” said Fogg.
Fogg also warned that since Dynamic Perspective uses multiple cameras, it will probably affect the battery life.
The handset will be available in America from 25 July exclusively on the AT&T network. The 32GB Fire phone will cost $199.99 (£117) with a two-year contract. The 64GB will cost $299.99 (£176). The phone is listed at $649 (£382) without a contract on Amazon’s US website.
There is no word yet on when it appear on this side of the pond.
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