Amazon Fire dubbed an 'experiment in e-commerce' with lessons for future phones

Firefly button lessens friction in buying, which is what Amazon wants to learn about for future generations

Amazon' first smartphone, the Amazon Fire, has been nothing but controversial.

Panned initially by reviewers before its release a week ago, one expert said on Monday that Amazon's basic intent with the Fire is to field an initial device to mainly gather corporate insights on ways to sell more Amazon products online.

Amazon's Fire phone with Firefly
Amazon's Fire phone arrived on July 27. (Photo: Amazon)

"If you view the Fire phone as an effort by Amazon to break into the phone market that then sells millions, this is not it," said Michael Mace, mobile strategist at an independent user testing group called UserTesting. "But if you view it as a long-term experiment to see what's needed to build e-commerce into a phone, then it's a really good experiment to help Amazon find out what's good and what it needs."

Before the Fire arrived on July 27 -- fully seven years after the first iPhone -- many experts predicted Amazon would deploy novel technologies in it to delight and engage its millions of Amazon.com shoppers. It could even bring in a few Android and iOS users to the Amazon fold, they said.

But before sales started, the Fire was quickly skewered by some reviewers who largely debunked its new Firefly and Dynamic Perspective technologies.

Computerworld's JR Raphael called it "different" and "odd" in his initial review.

Walt Mossburg of Re/Code called it an "interesting first step" with new features that are "sometimes outright frustrating."

Amazon hasn't officially disclosed information on initial sales of the Fire. However, Amazon.com has consistently listed the Fire at the top of its best sellers list of contract cell phones since sales began. It was in second place to the Samsung Galaxy S5 on Monday.

The base-level 32GB version of Fire sells unlocked for $649, and is sold exclusively on a two-year contract by AT&T for $200.

As of 10 a.m. ET Monday, there were 368 buyer reviews of the 32 GB model on Amazon's site, with 118 giving it the top five-star rating and 79 giving it just one star. More than 55 of the 368 reviewers said they planned to return the device after trying it out, with some complaining it was priced too high, while others faulted the lack of standard Google apps, a mediocre battery and complicated gestures and navigation.

Separately, UserTesting created a panel of 53 testers who looked at the Fire and evaluated its new features: Firefly, Dynamic Perspective, Carousel and Mayday.

The study revealed that some of those features were deemed useful. The Firefly feature for quickly scanning products to learn more about them over the Web was very popular. Still, it was not popular enough for most of testers to give up their current phone to buy the Fire, although 26% said they planned to buy it when they were ready for an upgrade, Mace said.

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