Alison K. Lanier
Amazon seems to have forayed just a little too far outside its well-established gadget comfort zone. While the goliath online seller of everything firmly established itself as a tech giant in the field of tablets and e-readers, its attempt to break into the fierce and fast-paced smartphone market fell resolutely flat.
Although the product was, even in the words of negative reviews like Engadget’s, “unique,” the Amazon smartphone failed to convert iPhone and Android users or to dazzle with its array of tracking, scanning, and streamlining features. What went wrong?
Amazon Fire: Down to the Details
The phone sought to differentiate itself, not by replicating the features present in other, widely-successful phones and making them better, but by adding “small touches” that would make the Amazon Fire undeniably convenient and unlike its predecessors.
“Things that people do all the time; when users really use the phone, they appreciate these small touches,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said according to Engadget.
These small touches range from prefabricated responses ready to send at your fingertips when you’re late for a meeting to a screen that adjusts dynamically by tracking where the viewer’s head is in relation to the image.
“For a picture to adjust dynamically,” Bezos said according to Engadget, “it would need to know precisely where you are. It would need to know how far to the left or right of the picture you are.”
Firefly character recognition—accessible at the touch of a button at the side of the device—is a camera app that theoretically recognizes even wrinkled or curved characters and picks out the important characters. The app’s main function, according to Crunch Base, is to identify the product captured in the camera’s eye and find it on Amazon, but Firefly is also capable of picking out lettering, music, television, and movies and identifying them automatically.
A Sinking Flagship
Despite these features, despite Amazon’s massive marketing machine, TechCrunch neatly summarized the implosion that is the phone’s release. “Maybe Amazon will be able to turn this piece of coal into a slightly polished piece of coal, if they promote the hell out of it on a little site called Amazon.com. But the early returns at AT&T stores promoting the Fire Phone don’t look good. At all.”
Despite a solid month of hype, as Business Insider phrased it, the phone could not drag itself into the spotlight with its load of not-insignificant cons. Engadget presented a neat grocery list: with AT&T as its exclusive carrier, there are no global options; Dynamic Perspective, while cool, could induce motion sickness; Dynamic Perspective and Firefly “need some work”; and the device’s battery life suffers under the burden of all its special features.
“Amazon’s debut phone isn’t bad, per se, but there’s little incentive for anyone to switch carriers or platforms to buy it,” Engadget said gently.
Amazon leaves many reviewers—those from Engadget, Re/code, and CNET—feeling that Amazon may have jumped out of the flying pan and into the smartphone fire a little too soon. Amazon, attempting to embed itself with the top players of the smartphone movement, priced the phone at $200 on contract, and $650 full retail. The company obviously has more to learn about designing a phone whose unique features do not differentiate it quite so much from a popular, well-functioning smartphone.
Even some of these unique features are not quite as unique as Amazon perhaps believed. The Samsung’s Galaxy S5 Active has its own convenience button on the side, like Amazon’s Firefly, but the Galaxy’s rendition is programmable, rather than permanently assigned to one previously unknown and apparently less-than-perfect app.
Putting it in Perspective
What CNET calls the phone’s “bells and whistles”—the limited-time offer of a free year of Amazon Prime with the phone’s purchase, the Dynamic Perspective visuals, the Firefly scanning button, the real-time Mayday help desk—failed to support it in the “hypercompetitive smartphone arena.”
While CNET blames the price, Engadget faults the less-than-astounding software, and Business Insider pointed out adroitly that customers coming into AT&T stores on Fire launch day repeatedly asked about the iPhone 6, the fact remained that the phone simply did not, in the end, differentiate itself to its advantage. Rather it, and its array of quasi-novel features, faded into a noisy yet unremarkable blur that failed to establish Amazon’s name among the smartphone giants.
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