CEO Jeff Bezos finally unveiled Amazon's first smartphone on Wednesday, calling it Fire. It's a 4.7 in. HD display device with a quad-core Snapdragon 2.2 GHz processor.
The Fire goes on sale July 25 exclusively through AT&T for $200 for the 32GB version, $300 for the 64GB version, both with a two-year contract, or $649 unlocked, according to Amazon's Web site. A limited introductory offer gives new Fire owners 12 months of Amazon Prime for free, valued at $99, for access to a wide array of movies, TV shows, books, songs and products, as well as free shipping.
Amazon's Fire phone and its recognition app called Firefly. (Photo: Amazon)
Fire presumably runs on the Kindle OS, a variant of Android that is used in Amazon's Kindle tablets. Bezos and Amazon's press release didn't mention the mobile operating system in the announcement, although Amazon, on its website, said the phone comew with a "suite of built-in tools and Android apps."
The launch prompted some pundits to question whether anyone would switch from a new iPhone, or Samsung Android device to buy the Fire, but that's really not Amazon's point, several analysts said.
New features in Fire, such as its Dynamic Perspective and Firefly service make it clear that Amazon is primarily interested in connecting to its 250 million Amazon and Amazon Prime customers with a phone that makes it quick and easy to buy videos, music and other goods over the Web.
Whether that works in Amazon's favor or not is an open question.
"Jeff Bezos is asking us to think differently about smartphones, although I'm not sure that prioritizing the consuming of media and more in a phone is at the top of the list for smartphone users," said Julie Ask, an analyst at Forrester Research.
"I don't think the new hardware features like Firefly in Fire are enough to draw customers in," Ask added. "Even with a free one-year Prime membership worth $99, that's not enough to have consumers raise their hands and say I want this phone," she said.
" iPhone owners are not likely to switch over to Fire, and while it might be easier for a Samsung owner to switch over, Samsung has more core value to its phones when connected with other devices like Galaxy Gear," a smartwatch.
Several important features stand out in Fire, including Dynamic Perspective, a sensor technology that was under development for four years at Amazon. The technology relies on four front-facing cameras to create 3D effects and to allow tilting of the phone with one hand to navigate through Web sites, books and maps.
With the special Firefly button, users can scan barcodes, QR codes, Web addresses, phone numbers, songs, movies and 70 million of products, including household items, to discover more information about each.
Amazon's Fire smartphone will be available through AT&T starting July 25. A version with 32GB of memory will cost $199 and a 64GB version will cost $299 with a two-year contract.
With such capabilities, a Fire user can quickly comparison shop and make purchases right from the phone. AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega, who appeared onstage with Bezos at the Seattle event, said Firefly's "only danger is clicking one too many times to buy things."
Amazon has also armed its new Fire with a Mayday button, which has been used in the Kindle Fire HDX tablet since it was introduced eight months ago. The Mayday button provides users with video access from the device to customer support within 15 seconds. Any problems with AT&T's LTE network will be handed off by the Amazon service tech to AT&T right away, de la Vega said.
But analysts said the technology features won't stand on their own.
"On first inspection, Amazon's Fire phone is breaking new technological ground with Firefly, Dynamic Perspective and numerous UI differentiators, but most North Americans already own a smartphone... and this will be a very tough sell," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
Moorhead said the $199 on-contract price needs to be less, especially when compared to the iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S5 at similar prices. The free Amazon Prime offer "doesn't mean much, given Amazon is going after a new market," he said. If customers had wanted Prime, they'd have it already, he said.
"It's important to note that this Fire phone doesn't have to win the competitive battle with the iPhone or Galaxy," said Jeff Kagan, an independent analyst. "That's not the purpose. The purpose is simply to give customers more ways to buy stuff from Amazon.com, as with the Kindle."
Ask said Amazon may deem its Fire phone a success even if it doesn't take any sizable share of the smartphone market from iOS and Android.
"They can define success as learning more about their customers who use Prime," she said. "Prime users will spend more. Amazon will know where users go to shop, what apps they get, what videos they watch. That creates better intelligence to better serve customers."
Amazon had little choice other than to introduce a smartphone, Ask and others said. "Hardware features aside, Amazon is too big of a player to be represented by just an app or two," Ask said. "A smartphone platform gives them more insight about customers and reduces the friction for those impulse sales moments. Amazon's actually not the first to have dreamed up these hardware features."
This article, Amazon's Fire phone is 'Prime' example of customer first , was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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