Amazon's Firefly will flicker on iOS, Android

Analysts agree that Amazon will extend the Firefly technology to apps for solid strategic reasons

Amazon has good reasons to turn Firefly loose on iOS and Android even though the technology is one of the selling points for its own Fire phone, analysts agreed.

"Amazon would absolutely benefit from Firefly on iOS and Android," said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research. "The more Firefly functionality out there, the more things Amazon can sell."

Last week, Amazon unveiled its first smartphone, the Fire phone, touting two technologies again and again: Firefly and Dynamic Perspectives.

Firefly uses image, text and audio recognition to identify millions of products, as well as QR and bar codes, artwork, movies, TV shows, music, email and Web addresses, and phone numbers. By pointing the phone's camera at a product, CEO Jeff Bezos demonstrated, Firefly IDs products that Amazon sells, then add them to an account holder's wish list or purchase them immediately.

Amazon has emphasized Firefly by building in a dedicated button into the Fire that launches the app.

Most analysts saw Firefly as an attempt to reduce purchasing friction, particularly from mobile, where Amazon has made insufficient progress even as more time shifts to smartphones, and to a lesser degree, tablets. That, in turn was viewed as a step toward the goal of boosting sales, especially those to Prime members, who buy significantly more -- some claim more than twice as much annually -- than the average non-Prime customer.

Other experts, however, saw it differently. Ben Thompson, an independent analyst at Stratechery, contended that Fire, and by extension Firefly, was a way to "more fully monetize a segment of its broad base of e-commerce customers" -- that segment being Prime -- but also to capture customers and if not lock them into the Amazon ecosystem, then build stronger ties of loyalty between those big spenders and itself.

But with Fire phone sales expectations so low -- few analysts were bullish on Amazon's ability to scratch out more than minimal numbers, either in units or share -- that strategy needs help.

Enter Firefly for Android and iOS.

"Knowing Amazon's business model, there's no reason why Amazon would keep Firefly exclusive," said Sameer Singh of Tech-Thoughts.

Others agreed. "It only makes sense Amazon would extend many of these features to other devices too, through Firefly apps on iOS and Android proper," wrote Jan Dawson, principal analyst at Jackdaw, in a piece last week on Techpinions.

In an interview, Dawson pointed out that Amazon has already put some pieces of Firefly into place on iOS. "Amazon has had versions of its shopping app that acted similarly on the iPhone," said Dawson.

In February, Amazon added UPC code and product packaging recognition to the Amazon App on iOS; the technology, dubbed "Flow," had come from A9.com, an Amazon subsidiary, and been the foundation of an earlier app launched in late 2011. The Android version of Amazon's app offers some similar features, including image search -- of product photographs snapped in a store -- and bar code recognition.

Dawson imagined Firefly apps on Android and iOS would be second-class compared to the Fire phone. "Amazon's taking advantage of the hardware," he noted. "The [Fire] phone was designed with this in mind."

"Firefly [on other platforms] may not have all of the aspects on the Fire," echoed Rubin. "It might be difficult without whatever dedicated hardware is inside the Fire."

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