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6/20/2014
10:46 AM
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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Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
6/23/2014 | 1:32:43 PM
Re: Convenient Oversight
I agree with you: I prefer to spread myself around so I'm not completely captured by one big company. Apple's walled garden of iTunes has always irritated me, but Amazon isn't an appealing option either. What I'm really waiting for is someone to start a brokerage company that puts me in charge of all my data and personal information and makes companies give me a cut when they pimp out my data. If I have to be sold, at least I should get a percentage.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
6/23/2014 | 7:58:45 AM
4 Front Facing Cameras
The number of apps available in Amazon's apps store will be a limiting factor for this phone, but this number (250k) is still reasonable considering that windows phones have an app store that has roughly, 270K apps. With time, it will be interesting to see the kind of apps that developers can imagine that are enabled by 4 front facing cameras. A single app that creates a quality user case could make 4 cameras standards on the next gen of smart phones. 
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
6/23/2014 | 7:32:13 AM
Re: Convenient Oversight
@Joeshmoe9000, interesting point about the ecosystem. Overall, I see the smartphone market as a two-player market i.e. Apple's iOS and the Samsung-Android combo, and everyone else that is trying to turn this two-player market into a three-player market. I guess, in this regard it would be better to compare the Fire Phone with a product like windows phone -- aiming to enter the market in scale. 
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
6/21/2014 | 10:22:58 AM
Re: Convenient Oversight

The number of apps available will be a big concern. If the android apps can be used on the fire then problem solved however that's not the case at the moment I believe. You can run an amazon app on the iPhone and droid. What makes this phone stand out besides the dynamic perspective, which is cool at best.

Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 6:01:35 PM
Re: Amazon, not in Apple's fashion class
Actually, we're an Apple-free household. However, I am not sure any electronics manufacturer is innocent in that regard.
FrankH790
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FrankH790,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 5:17:12 PM
Re: Amazon, not in Apple's fashion class
You feel good about Apple? Good to know how many people could not care less that their products are made by children in slave labor conditions in China and other parts of the world.

 

Good to know!
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
6/20/2014 | 4:39:14 PM
Re: Ugh, no thanks
Yeah that was kind of my thought as well.  The 'Mayday' feature kind of hints to users that are graduating up from their old Jitterbug phone...
KristineSantos
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KristineSantos,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 4:37:07 PM
Re: Amazon, not in Apple's fashion class
I think part of that's because people buy Apple in part for the Apple image. Apple's brand is one of innovation and creativity, but Amazon's brand isn't the same. When I think of Amazon, I think of the ease of finding something and having everything at my fingertips. Aamazon having 1 million fewer apps than Google Play goes against that and makes that "icky" feeling.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 4:33:20 PM
Re: Ugh, no thanks
Good question. Who is the audience? I've been trying to figure that out.

Older, AT&T-inclined shopping addicts who call customer support every time their phone vibrates?
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 4:30:50 PM
Re: Convenient Oversight
I love my Kindle Fire and its lack of apps, when compared with my iPhone, hasn't struck me at all. In fact, it's easier to buy apps on my Kindle than on my iPhone because of inumerable problems I've had with iTunes... but that's another story! That said, I prefer to dilute all the info companies have on me. Google's got some, Apple's got some, and Amazon has other data. Let's not give the entire cartload to one! 
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