Will the Amazon Fire phone set the world ablaze?


BC Jul 2The Amazon Fire has a special 3D feature called “Dynamic Perspective” (photo credit: Amazon).

oon yeohBy Oon Yeoh.

It had to happen. It was just a matter of time before Amazon.com would come out with its own mobile phone, and it has just done that with the Amazon Fire. Technically an Android phone, the Fire is in some ways unlike any other phone out there.

It has a lot of gimmicky features that can be found in other phones but it has something that is original and unique, a special 3D feature called “Dynamic Perspective”. As its name implies, it’ll give you a different perspective when you view the screen at different angles.

To achieve this, the phone utilizes four front-facing infrared cameras to detect where your head is, while the phone redraws the image at a rapid rate of 60 times per second to make the adjustments.

You can use this feature, for instance, to view the front and back of say a building on a 3D map or to inspect a product that you are about to buy from Amazon. It’s different, for sure, and it’s potentially useful and fun as well, but, whether it will be seen as a serious differentiator or just a gimmick, is very uncertain.

The Fire phone, which will be available July 25 through AT&T, will be available at US$200 for the 32Gb model and US$300 for the 64Gb version (both require two-year service contracts). The non-contract price is US$650.

At such prices Amazon is not undercutting Apple or Samsung but is instead going head-to-head against them. This is quite surprising for Amazon watchers because the company has a history of selling its famous Kindle e-book readers at close to cost price in order to encourage high take-up rates. But instead of adopting such a strategy for the Fire phone, Amazon has decided to offer a high-end device with unusual features.

True to form, Amazon has bundled in features that encourage sales from its online store. For one thing, the phone comes with 12 months of Amazon Prime membership (offering free two-day shipping within the US) worth US$99 a year. Existing Prime members will get their term extended.

But the real killer app for shopping is something called “Firefly” which is an object recognition feature. If you take a photo of a book or any product, it will direct you to the page on Amazon where you can order it with the touch of a button. With such a feature in place, it’ll be a wonder if department stores don’t start banning the Fire phone from being used for comparison shopping!

To ensure that its customers stay satisfied, the Fire phone will come with Amazon’s ground-breaking tech support service, called “Mayday”, which connects customers with a real person via video chat.

If such a phone intrigues you, you will have to stay intrigued for some time to come because it’s meant only for US customers. The phone will not be made available outside the US any time soon. Even if you could get your hands on a non-contract version (let’s say you get a friend in the US to buy one for you), you won’t be able to take advantage of Amazon Prime, whose service is not available in this part of the world.

Another shortcoming of the phone is the relative lack of apps compared to what’s available for iPhones and Samsung phones. Although the Fire phone is technically an Android phone, the version it uses is so heavily modified that you can’t be certain it will run every Android app bought from the Google Play store. Instead, you have to buy apps form the Amazon Appstore store. (There are about 240,000 apps in Amazon’s store, compared to the over one million apps in the Apple and Google Play stores.)

But perhaps the biggest challenge of all for Amazon is the fact that the Fire phone is a completely new device, different from the iPhone and even from other Android phones.

That is a barrier to adoption in a world where most people who are prepared to dish out big bucks for a phone would already be an iPhone or a Samsung phone user.

Buying a Fire phone inevitably involves a learning curve. When you couple that with the fact that many of its most attractive services are not available outside of the US, I think it’s safe to conclude that neither Apple nor Samsung have much to worry about, at least for the time being.

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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